Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

What does emotional intelligence mean?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to control and manage our emotions, and to positively influence our own emotional state and the one of the people around us.

Is emotional intelligence a skill?

Yes, it is. Emotional intelligence isn’t a talent you are born with, it’s a skill and like any other skill you can explain it, learn it and refine it over time. 

Can emotional intelligence be learned?

Emotional intelligence can be learned with guidance and time: guidance to properly address all of its building blocks, and time to practice it and to learn by doing.

Why emotional intelligence in leadership?

Emotional intelligence improves a leader’s ability to inspire, motivate and drive performance. It builds trust, respect and resilience, and it lowers the risk of conflicts and burnouts.

The emotionally intelligent leader

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Emotional intelligence and leadership is a massive topic, but one you can’t shy away from.

One aspect of stepping up to leadership is going from managing tasks to managing people, and managing people brings emotions into the mix.

And your job when it comes to emotions is to manage them: yours and your team’s. 

If you have a bad day and you don’t have the tools to manage and react, your whole team will see it and suffer from it.

Likewise, if someone in your team is going through some stuff, they will suffer from it and their emotional state will have an impact on the team – both personally and professionally.

If it’s ever happened to you that because of something bad that happened, you 

  • felt like your energy was being drained,
  • kept reinforcing your own negative thoughts, 
  • and basically couldn’t think straight because of everything that was going on in the background 

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. And when you are in that state, you know damn well that using logic or trying to be rational about it won’t be of any help.

So when I say manage emotions what I mean is: know what to do when negativity is taking over and make it better – know how to cause a positive change in your emotional state, in the one of others, redirect your attention and energy to where it matters and be able to do the same for your team.

Emotional intelligence and leadership go hand in hand, and to get there, there are four areas you need to master and go through in order. 

  1. recognizing your own emotions
  2. managing them
  3. recognizing emotions in others
  4. managing or influencing other people’s emotions

And tempting as it is to skip one, please don’t do it, without all four under your belt you won’t be able to do that awesome stuff we just talked about!

First, though, there is one thing you need to do: figure out where you are so I suggest you STOP AND TAKE MY EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE TEST.

Take the test and and then get back to this post, everything will make a lot more sense afterwards!

Labeling emotions 

Let’s quickly go through the first point: recognizing your own emotions.

And if this sounds weird because, well, you know what you feel already, I get where you’re coming from.

You know the difference between happy and sad.

But in your everyday, how aware are you of the difference between being feeling happy, joyful, serene or ecstatic, for example? Or how about sad, pensive, disapproving or remorseful?

You know the difference between happy and sad of course, but chances are you don’t always go into a deeper level of detail, and you are not so precise about why exactly you are feeling what you are feeling.

That’s what I mean about recognizing your own emotions: giving them precise labels and knowing why they occur, what’s behind them.

And doing this is first of all not that much work, and secondly it’s something that will help you notice a lot more about yourself.

To do that, I’m going to give you a task and a roadmap:

The task is to mentally log what you are feeling and why – or you can write it if you want to keep track, up to you.

The roadmap is Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, which is a diagram shaped like a sun with 8 rays that at its basic level classifies 8 main emotions. The closer you are to the center, the more intense the emotion, and vice versa.

It’s of course a lot more complex than this, this video should clarify it a bit:

And the reason I’m giving you this link is just to give you a reference. When I’ve gone through this exercise I found myself extremely confused trying to figure out exactly what I was feeling, and having an external reference to guide me helped me out immensely.

So that’s it:

  • the first step in developing emotional intelligence is being aware of what you’re feeling and why
  • to get there, you simply need to be aware and think about it
  • and a tool to help you out at least in the beginning is Plutchik’s wheel of emotions.

Sounds like a lot?

Well… emotional intelligence and leadership are hard work!

Try to do it all for one week, at your own pace and see how it goes – I’ll see you in the next episode where we’ll go to the next step: managing positive and negative emotions.

Managing emotions (2 sub-areas)

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In the previous paragraph time we looked at how to recognize precisely what emotion you are feeling and what’s behind it.

This time we’ll look at how to manage them.

I hope the link is clear but just in case: to manage something well, you need to know what you’re dealing with, so unless you’re at least aware of your emotions, you won’t be able to handle them well.

And the reason you need to handle them well is because otherwise they will get in your way. If you don’t manage your emotions, they will manage you.

If you are in a bad place emotionally, you won’t be able to think clearly, to judge well or to focus on what you need to do. So the first step is getting yourself out of that bad place.

And once you are out, what you don’t want is to slip right back in that bad place, and keep up your focus, mood and attention.

So as you can see it’s a two-step process. That needs to be clear, you need to go through both of them.

Step 1 – manage negative emotions

And to go through the first step well – getting you out of that bad place, here is what you can do:

  1. Be aware of what’s behind you being down, that’s basically the previous area. If you know where the problem is, you can target it well
  2. Work on your happiness levels. If you’ve read how to be happy at work, you know that you control 40% of your happiness. So just by boosting your happiness levels with the exercises I shared with you then, you can lift yourself up in less than ten minutes. If you haven’t listened to that episode, get back and do.
  3. Use humor. Strange as it may seem, when everything is going wrong, force yourself and try to see the ironic side of it, the funny side. If you just lost two projects and on top of that you have personal issues keeping your mind occupied, and maybe on top of that your bike broke on your way to work, well it sucks, and it’s got all the markings of a bad day. But at that point you have two choices: be miserable about it and spend all your energy rummaging about how bad everything is, or looking at how ironic it is that you’ve got all of that dumped on you at once. Reality won’t change either way, but looking at the ironic side of it will reframe how you place yourself in all this, and at the very least give you a push. 

This way of using humor is extremely effective, but I know it may not be your thing. Your sense of humor is personal and it may not work well to take you out of a bad place.

And precisely for that, because it’s so important, I suggest you check it – we all have different ways of using humor, but while there some good ways of doing it, like seeing the ironic side of things, there are others that can just bring you down, and I want you to know if that’s your case.

The best way to find out is to head over to a website called humorstyles.com and take their basic test. It’s a research-based assessment that will show you what your preferred humor style is and will let you know how good or bad that is for you.

Now, let’s assume you’ve managed to pull yourself up and handle your negativity. That was step 1, well done!

Step 2 – keep up focus and positivity

What you want now it not fall back into that same loop, this is step 2.

Remember: if you can’t deal with your negative emotions, it will fall back on your team. It cannot be one of your leadership traits, and that’s why I’m stressing this point so much.

You can’t give in to your negative emotions that are still lurking in the background – remember how emotional intelligence and leadership go hand in hand!

So for step two you can also rely on a few tips and tricks, two:

  1. set yourself a short-term goal and deny any impulse to stop focusing on it and take a break. Personally this is almost impossible for me, I get so easily distracted and even while writing this episode I have to keep myself from checking facebook, checking the news, taking a coffee break… I want to do all of that, badly, but I also know that if I interrupt what I’m doing I will lose track, waste time, feel bad about it and all of a sudden I’m back to square 1. It’s about self-discipline, I have very little of it personally but if I manage to deny my impulse to get distracted, I’m sure that so can you.
  2. find a way to get invested in what you need to do to reach your goals, force yourself to be enthusiastic about your task, or maybe make yourself a bit anxious about what would happen if you don’t work enough. Whatever works for you to keep yourself engaged. This for me has also been one of the hardest things to apply because it’s forced. You need to find a way to force yourself and that’s never nice, but I guarantee that if you push through and deny your impulse to let go, you will find what makes you tick and helps you focus.

Just remember that the hard part, the really hard part is the beginning, the first 10 minutes give or take. If you manage to get invested by then, you’re rolling.

And once you’ve done that, congratulations, that’s a massive accomplishment.

You have successfully managed your emotions and not let them manage you.

And look if it all sounds hard it’s because it is. I never said it was easy, but the satisfaction you’ll receive from getting better at managing your emotions and at the end doing it well is great.

Personally I think this is the hardest part, but once you master recognizing and managing your own emotions well, you’ll immediately see a change in how you recognize emotions in others and how able you are to influence them.

Recognising emotions in others (Empathy)

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So here you are: fully aware of what we are feeling at any given time, and proficient in controlling our emotional state.

You’ve got your emotional self-leadership covered, when you notice you are having a bad day, you know how to control it and make sure that it does not weigh on your team.

That’s good leadership already if you ask me – think of how relevant this would be when giving or receiving feedback for example.

Let’s get to your team, because let’s face it, that’s where the kicker is.

Emotional intelligence is a way to improve team communication, and if something is wrong with someone in your team, that person may be brought down and paralyzed by what he or she is feeling, just like you.

And it’s your job as an emotionally intelligent leader to communicate at an emotional level, and make sure that doesn’t happen.

And I mean it both from a professional and a personal perspective.

You are the point of contact for an organization responsible for that person’s well-being, and that is someone you see every day.

You are in a position where you can and should do something, that’s why I say it’s your job as the leader.

So the first step, just like when it came to your own emotions, is recognizing precisely what emotion someone is feeling. Difficult of course, but less than you may think (and yes, this is valid for remote communication as well).

The funny thing is that, as you follow your emotional intelligence and leadership path, you become better at figuring out your own feelings, the better you will automatically become at reading other people’s emotional state.

Forgive me if I go holistic on you for a second, but in other words: the more comfortable and in touch you are with your own emotions, the better you will be at being in touch with others emotionally.

The moment you start you of course won’t be proficient at it, so give yourself some time to sharpen your skills, but if you’ve done the work before it will get easier.

And to help you out, here are four elements you can look out for that will help you out at least in the beginning to read others:

  • shape
  • rhythm
  • intonation
  • dissonance.


By shape I simply mean: look at the other person’s whole body posture, expression, movements.

What visual cues can you recognize just by observing someone’s shape?

You don’t need to be an expert in body language, if you know the basics even better but there is so much you can learn about a person’s state just be looking at their shape.


Rhythm is the rhythm of the conversation, if you are talking: are they quick on their feet in answering?

Do they interrupt or let you finish?

Do they follow a normal tempo in speaking and answering or is it too slow, or perhaps irregular?

Those are still cues you can use to read their emotional state quickly? Also: do they change as they speak, that’s something to take into account.


Connected to rhythm: intonation – what does the voice of who is in front of you tell you?

Is it normal? Is it blatantly angry?

Are they trying to keep calm and forcing a steady tone?

That’s something to make a note of for yourself.


And last: dissonance.

Are these elements coherent?

Are they calm and in a good place and everything is fine? Or do you notice that their shape or intonation are not coherent with what they want to display?

If you notice consciously, it means that others may notice unconsciously and may be impacted.

Again, treat these four elements as guidelines, tools to help you out in the beginning, but your best bet is to do the work on yourself first and develop both emotional intelligence and leadership from the bottom up.

So go back to the beginning of this post and go through it again.

The better you are at reading your own emotions, the better you will be at reading others, including your team, and the better of a leader you’ll become on the way.

Leading with empathy

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This is the last step when it comes to emotional intelligence and leadership: how to cause a change in your team’s emotional state. 

And just to review why you should care about this, it’s because negative emotions can bring anyone, including your team members to complete paralysis.

If someone is taken over by something negative that happened to them, there is a real chance that that person will end up with having blurred thoughts, unclear judgement and low levels of energy is real.

  • First of all it isn’t healthy, and as you are an ambassador of your organization for that person – you represent your company whether you like it or not – it’s your job to notice and do something.
  • Second, you should care personally about this person’s well-being. If you absolutely don’t care about how your team members are doing, maybe there’s a bigger issue to discuss.
  • And third, someone in that state won’t manage to get anything done – not only that: they can place this weight on the rest of the team and sink your whole productivity, so there’s also a strategic aspect to it.

So it’s up to you to do something about it, and the only way you’ll manage to act well in this situation is if you’ve gone through the previous three steps:

  1. learning how to recognize precisely your own emotions what causes them
  2. learning how to manage your negative emotions and not letting them bring you down, but knowing how to bounce back
  3. and learning how to identify and recognize precisely other people’s emotions

Only once you have all that, and you notice something is off with a person in your team, you can get to work. And I hope it’s clear why you need to have those three other steps down: if you don’t, you won’t be able to lift the other person up, and you’d be navigating blind.

Emotional Contagion

And the main tool you have at your disposal is called emotional contagion, which means that in a group mood flows from the more emotionally charged person to the less charged one. 

For example if you are having a great time with a group of friends sitting at a bar, and someone arrives in a foul mood, you’ll feel how that brings everyone down, because the most emotionally charged person is loaded with negativity.

Which is the same thing that a team member in a bad place emotionally does to the rest of the team.

And when that happens, I hope it’s clear that you can’t use logic or talk the person out of it. Logic and rationality don’t work with emotions.

What works is finding a way to reverse the flow, meaning you need to have a strong and positive and solid emotional charge, so that your mood will flow to others.

I’m not talking of course about being a clown, making a fool of yourself or any of that.

I’m talking about taking in anything you can about what the other person is going through, and why. 

And on that basis, and on the basis of you experience in handling your own emotional states, finding what would work to lift that person up, for example:

  • helping them see the irony in negativity
  • pointing out something they could be thankful for

And of course the specifics of it are all case by case, that’s why to truly address and engage with someone’s emotions you need to be able to read them well. One thing that helps is having trust at work, so you may want to work on that as well…

If you’ve managed to get them to a better place, however you could, it’s up to you to keep them there.

It’s all about enabling them to focus on achieving a short-term goal and at the same time helping them build their enthusiasm about that task or a larger one at this point.

And if all this sounds repetitive to you, it’s because it is – you want to cause a change in someone’s emotional state, and the tools to do that are the same ones you’d use on yourself!

The key, all along is still holding a solid and positive emotional state as you use those tools.

Emotional contagion happens whether you want it or not, so if you engage with someone negatively charged, you want to make 100% sure that you can master your emotions well enough and not be brought down.

That’s why you need to work on handling your own state first and only then move on to empathy, otherwise other people’s emotions will get to you and you won’t be able to lift others up as you’d want.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: a wrap-up

So to wrap it up:

  • part of your job as a leader is working with people, not only with tasks
  • your emotional state and your team’s has a clear effect on how well you are able to work, so it’s your responsibility to manage it
  • the first steps when it comes to emotional intelligence and leadership have to do with recognizing what you are feeling and knowing how to manage your own negative emotions. This will help you be more stable, productive and most of all you won’t weigh on your team when you’ve had a bad day.
  • the next steps have to do with working with others’ emotions: recognizing them and influencing them, and you won’t be able to do and of that it unless you’ve done the work on yourself.
  • You need to have enough control on your own emotions before you try working on uplifting your team. The risk is that you can be brought back down with them, and end up to square one.

However, if you follow the steps I’ve outlined in these four episodes and you put in the work, you’ll quickly see the benefits of working in parallel with both emotional intelligence and leadership skills.

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