A Guide to Emotionally Intelligent Leadership and Change

Written by Watershed CI

May 27, 2019

In our last blog we asked ourselves to think about the impact emotionally intelligent (EI) leadership could have on our team or organization. To review, let’s re-examine psychologist Daniel Goleman’s statement in his 1998 Harvard Business Review article about the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) when it comes to leadership:

The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence….Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.[i]

Effective leadership, leadership that successfully drives a team, must include emotional intelligence. What does that actually translate to in a corporate environment? Organizational change is by far the most challenging thing to lead through; so, in order to better grasp what emotionally intelligent leadership looks like let’s examine EI and change using Goleman’s five main components of EI.

As you read through these explanations try and think about leaders in your own life that have displayed one or more of these components and how it’s affected you or your team. Can you recognize any of these traits in yourself?

  1. Self-Awareness

An emotionally intelligent leader can’t lead through change if they don’t recognize that they’re also going to be effected by it. The impact of organizational change is universal, so a self-aware leader is one that examines their own feelings about change, how it will impact them, and has a strategy to cope before they begin to lead their team. They know their limits and respect them.

The perfect analogy for this situation is to follow the flight attendant’s instructions in case of emergency by placing your own oxygen mask on before helping others.

  1. Self-Regulation

A lack of emotions would make a leader seem unapproachable, but over-sharing can disrupt progress. Knowing what to share and what to keep behind the scenes is the key to building trust, and requires a leader to adapt during circumstances that can be difficult.

Actions and words should be clear and thoughtful, and emotions should be moderated when required.

  1. Motivation

Genuine positivity in approach, despite reservations, increases optimism in others. If a team leader has the drive and commitment to make an organizational transformation successful, that enthusiasm resonates with team members and can help motivate them to also achieve their goals.

Think about this component from a competitive standpoint, the desire to and belief that you can win, or for your team to meet or surpass every expectation.

  1. Empathy for Others

Knowing and understanding what is important to their team helps enable effective leadership through change. An emotionally intelligent leader can look at what their team is going through and relate, as change creates anxiety, concern, upset, and resistance in everyone.

This insight allows for leader to remain supportive, acknowledging the feelings of their team even if it’s getting in the way of tasks, as it’s unlikely a team can progress until those emotions have been dealt with.

  1. Social Skills

This component references managing relationships within the team and connecting team members, be it resolving conflicts or organizing appropriate team building activities. An emotionally intelligent leader brings solidarity to their team, providing unity through change.

This leader would think about finding commonalities, perhaps figuring out that their team members all love coffee, and then scheduling group coffee breaks where they and their team can share project and personal goals.

EI and Change

When viewing these five components together we can more clearly see the impact emotionally intelligent leadership has, particularly when it comes to change.

If you picture any past or present change you’ve encountered, be it a new technology implementation, new hire or restructure, and benchmark the leadership you have or had at the time against those five components, how does that leader measure up? If you could make any changes to how things were handled, would the behavior of that leader match those examples listed above?


[i]Goleman, D. (2004)“What Makes a Leader” Harvard Business Review, January 2004 Issue: https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader


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