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Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Thu, Jul 2, 2015

Columbia, Maryland

I was a good student in high school, but not at the top of my class. If I didn't find a subject appealing (um, chemistry) I didn't put as much effort into it as I know I should have. So I felt relieved when I read an article that said emotional intelligence is more important than IQ when it comes to being a successful leader. It turns out you don't have to be valedictorian to be a highly successful leader. In fact, Daniel Goleman, the article author, said when he asks a roomful of CEOs if they were magna cum laude or had the highest grades in their class, less than 1% raise their hands.

Emotional intelligence is our ability to perceive, reason with, understand and manage our emotions. Leaders who are self aware and are able to manage their emotions are more successful than those who are blind to emotions and their impact on others.

Goleman says, "A higher proportion of the competencies that distinguish the stars among leaders turn out to be based on emotional intelligence rather than IQ-type abilities, by far--like 80 or 90 percent of them."

The good news is that emotional intelligence is not fixed. With awareness and practice, we can develop our emotional intelligence.

While there are many elements of emotional intelligence, I find many leaders struggle with areas like self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and emotional expression. Most employees connect better with leaders who are authentic, approachable, supportive and who listen well.

Below are three ways to increase your emotional intelligence: 

Ask for feedback. There are several tools for gaining information on how your staff and peers perceive you. An emotional intelligence assessment or 360 degree feedback survey are great ways to benchmark how your emotional intelligence skills are perceived by others.  Sending an survey to anonymously collect feedback will help you to focus in on the areas of improvement.

Listen. Studies show that most people are only about 25% effective as listeners. Listening is a mental skill that takes energy and discipline. With practice, we can improve our ability to listen. A good practice is to focus really intently on the person speaking and wait until she has finished before you formulate your response. When meeting with an employee, turn off the alerts on your email and phones so you can focus on the conversation.

Cultivate relationships. Many leaders don't find the time to interact with their staff because they are too busy. This often leads to employees feeling their boss is unapproachable or doesn't care. Focus on developing relationships with people by asking about their personal life and walking around to interact with them. Foster an engaging environment where employees enjoy coming to work.

Emotional intelligence determines to a large extent your success as a leader. With awareness and continued focus, you can improve your emotional intelligence. 

Laurie Maddalena is CEO of Envision Excellence, a leadership development and executive coaching firm in the Washington, DC area. Laurie is a former credit union executive and now works with credit unions nationally. For more information, visit

Laurie will be facilitating the Exceptional Leader program beginning in September. For more information, click HERE.