Emotional Intelligence: An Essential Leadership Skill

Intelligence quotient (IQ) has traditionally been the most important marker of intellect. However, as an employer, if that is all you are thinking of then you are missing a key indicator.  

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.

How high is your Emotional Quotient (EQ)?

The very best leaders are those that inspire the highest performance, engagement and morale on their teams. Successful leaders have the ability to build trust and respect from their teams, and lead them to want to perform. Typically, promotions to leadership roles happen because an individual is highly skilled, and an expert in their field. While it makes sense for companies to promote these top talents, and reward them for their hard work, you have to wonder how many companies actually take into consideration a leader's EQ?

Is the top producer capable of coaching and growing their team’s talent? To effectively inspire high performance, engagement and morale, it is imperative that leaders understand human behavior and what motivates their team members. In leadership, a one size fits all dictator approach will never work. Teams have diversified personalities, motivational drivers and talents. You must understand each individual on your team, and adapt your leadership style accordingly. A leader with a high EQ will quickly be able to assess what motivates their employees. Leaders with emotional intelligence listen as their team members speak, and observe the working styles and stressors of each individual. They notice those small nuances, such as body language and behaviors that define who their team members really are. These leaders inspire, because they are self-aware, exhibit empathy, and are adaptable. They understand what it takes to grow talent and why it’s important to the future of the organization.


A leader must be self-aware and spend time on self-reflection. You need to understand how your delivery, cadence and actions affect those around you. Your behavior directly impacts your team. Did the intent of your message come across to your team members the way you intended? Are you aware of how others perceive you? You want to make sure you are willing to take feedback, and adjust accordingly.


You can develop empathy as a skill, and should practice it in order to adapt to the needs of individuals. The ability to understand a perspective that is not your own, is key to successful communication and motivating others. According to the Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, by being attuned to how others feel in the moment, a leader can say and do what’s appropriate - whether it be to calm fears, assuage anger or join in good spirits. Teams work best when they believe their leader’s care about them and have their best interest in mind.

“A leader who lacks empathy will unwittingly be off-key, and so speak and act in ways that set off negative reactions. Empathy, which includes listening and taking other people’s perspectives, allows leaders to tune in to the emotional channels between people that create resonance.” - Daniel Goleman


A leader must adapt their style to meet the needs of each individual on their team, if they want to inspire high performance. You must understand the strengths of each team member, and assign roles/tasks where you know they will excel. Understand what growth challenges are right for that person. Don’t just understand what drives each team member, also know what shuts them down. While one person may like very direct feedback and constructive criticism, another may need you to guide them through the right solution.


Kelley Hendrickson, SPHR, SHRM-SCP



Kelley is the Corporate HR Director at PDR. She leads a team of HR professionals and is responsible for staffing and building project teams by strategizing and acquiring top-tier talent. Kelley supports the company's leadership team by strongly focusing on employee development. Kelley forms meaningful relationships by functioning as an employee advocate and trusted liaison between the leadership team and the overall staff.