In a nutshell: Emotional intelligence is a trait shared by strong, inspiring leaders — and it can be learned. 

You may have noticed your boss (if you consider him or her a good boss) is generally optimistic, intrinsically motivating and displays empathy for others.

These are attributes, according to Inc.’s “Does Your Boss Have Emotional Intelligence? Here Are 4 Ways to Truly Know,” that demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence.

If you ask me, emotional intelligence (usually abbreviated as EQ or EI) sounds like a pretty important skill to have if you’re going to be a manager. While these attributes are some of the ways emotional intelligence shows up in the workplace, what does it really mean? How is it different from IQ? And how can you increase yours to become a better leader?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others, according to Psychology Today. This is an important leadership trait because it allows managers to build a meaningful connection with those around them, especially their direct reports.

Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goldman first described the connection between emotional intelligence and business leadership. Without emotional intelligence, “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,” Goldman said in a Harvard Business Review article.

Let’s learn why.

IQ Versus EQ

IQ, or intelligence quotient, is the number derived from an intelligence test that measures abilities such as visual and spatial processing, knowledge of the world, fluid reasoning, working memory and short-term memory and quantitative reasoning, according to VeryWell’s “IQ or EQ: Which One Is More Important?”

EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, measures abilities such as identifying emotions, evaluating how others feel, controlling one’s own emotions, perceiving how others feel, using emotions to facilitate social communication and relating to others.

So, which one is more important, particularly in being a successful leader? Since emotional intelligence is a fairly new concept (with the term only being coined in 1990), some may not recognize how vital it is in the business world. Emotional abilities have not only been proven to equate to strong leadership potential in individuals but also can influence consumer choices in buying decisions. It’s a powerful tool that helps build deeper connections and trusting relationships. While IQ is still recognized as an element to success, it is not the only determinant, as previously thought.

Increase Your EQ

Now that we understand the importance of emotional intelligence to our success, how can we set out to improve upon it? First, there are various elements of emotional intelligence to consider. Under four main categories (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management), there are a total of 12 subcategories to analyze, according to Harvard Business Review’s “Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work On?”:


  • Emotional self-awareness


  • Emotional self-control
  • Adaptability
  • Achievement orientation
  • Positive outlook

Social awareness

  • Empathy
  • Organizational awareness

Relationship management

  • Influence
  • Coach and mentor
  • Conflict management
  • Teamwork
  • Inspirational leadership

By reviewing the above concepts in your head, you may be able to pinpoint some areas you know need development. Beyond that, there are multiple commercially-available assessment tools that you could choose to further help you identify areas to work on. If your company offers 360-degree assessments, which gather self-ratings as well as those from your peers, direct reports and managers, this may lend some insight into areas you should focus on improving.

The good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be developed. According to Inc.’s “How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence,” try these seven tips:

  1. Take time to reflect on your own emotions and reactions.
  2. Ask others for perspective on how they view your interactions with them.
  3. Be observant of your emotions based on your newly acquired information from steps 1 and 2.
  4. Pause for a moment to think before you act or speak.
  5. Keep the “why people are feeling the way they are” at the forefront of your mind before interacting with them.
  6. Don’t be offended by criticism; instead, seek out what you can learn from it.
  7. Practice, practice … and keep practicing.

With a full understanding of the meaning of emotional intelligence and how you can bolster these skills, you’ll be on your way to knowing what to say and how to say it – and making these skills work for you in your current or future leadership role.

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