How Emotional Intelligence Can Work for You

Emotions are an interesting aspect of being human. Our feelings provide color and vitality to our lives. They help us express our most basic human thoughts and provide the means for us to attempt to understand each other.

I have been teaching and training leaders to become aware of and improve their emotional intelligence for about 10 years now. Many of the clients I work with echo the research that says a person must be smart enough to be in a leadership role, but that it is emotional intelligence that modulates success.


Emotional intelligence is a leader’s capacity to effectively recognize and manage their emotions and the emotions of others in order to enhance judgment and decision-making.

Have you ever found yourself having made a decision you wish you could take back because your emotions got the best of you? Perhaps you took a job just because you felt the pressure for income rather than waiting for a role that was a better fit for your talents. Many of you have taken promotions into roles because promotions feel good, rather than being content doing the work you love.

A story to Consider

I have a client who just got a new boss. The search for my client's new leader took a year, and in the meantime my client filled the gap so well that he was actually recognized by the president of the organization for his contribution, including a pay raise and a new title.  Most on the outside would say my client is extremely talented, very gifted in this role, and very successful in many past roles. Yet when I talked to him here is what he said.

I am:

    • frustrated
    • overwhelmed
    • overworked
    • stressed
    • feeling immense pressure
    • unsuccessful
    • emotionally drained

On the outside, everyone in the organization would say, “This dude is awesome!”, “Does he ever have it together!”, or “I wish I could be him!"

However, on the inside a different story is being told. One where my client is saying, “Am I really valued here? This work is not what I signed up for. I am stuck and I feel desperate. What am I going to do?"

The emotions he feels are something my client and his new boss both have to recognize, express, and use so that the talent in this young leader shines through.

How can my client (and his new boss) use emotional intelligence to turn these negative feelings into productive, positive, and powerful outcomes for the organization?

Important Questions to Answer

Let's assume this young leader has enough intellect to do the job. Since I personally know this person very well, I can assure you he does! Based upon the above definition of emotional intelligence, some interesting questions need to be asked:

  • Can this young leader and his boss work together to experience a positive performance outcome?
  • What risk does this young leader have for making a poor decision?
  • Can this young leader develop emotional intelligence to enhance judgment and decision-making?

Important Answers to These Important Questions

Let's start with the last question first: Can this young leader develop emotional intelligence?  

In the infancy of the study of emotional intelligence, theorists did not separate emotional intelligence from personality. Therefore, it was believed that growth in this area was not possible. This was based upon the assumption that since personality does not change, neither can the way a person uses emotion.

We now know after separating emotional intelligence from personality theory (which does not change much over time), that you can develop your emotional intelligence and make better decisions and judgments as a result.

Below is a chart from data I collected with a client at a large pharmaceutical company. In 2009 we gave a one-day baseline training (blue bar) to 125 people on Leading with Emotional Intelligence. Following the training, each participant received 2 coaching sessions, after which we retested the participants. Each of the EI competencies improved, which is what we expected. All except one: Interpersonal Relationships.


We were puzzled by this at first. Why would we see increases in all competencies except one? After reviewing the data, we discovered that Interpersonal Relationship was the highest competency to start with and not many people had chosen it as a place to develop. This further strengthened our argument that if you focus on an EI competency it can be developed. Perhaps an even stronger argument is that if you choose not to work on this element of your leadership, then you can expect nothing to change for you.

I am curious how this sits with you. Are you feeling stressed but not doing anything to improve your stress management? Or are you a very technical, data-driven person, struggling with interpersonal relationships, who is just avoiding the topic and hoping it will go away? If this sounds like you, avoiding the development of your emotional intelligence will leave you right where you are today.

Is This Young Leader at Risk?

Without the use of emotional intelligence, this young leader will become a slave to his emotion.  This potentially leads to a decision to relieve the emotion rather than dealing with the source of what is really going on. The young leader may leave a job he loves too early, or stay in the job too long. The right outcome is in the heart of the young leader. In order to discover it, he must be able to think clearly in order to listen to what his heart is saying about what he wants for his life. Without this ability to clearly listen, leaders are prone to make emotional decisions that may relieve temporary pain but are not as valuable in the long run.

So, if you pay attention to an area you can develop, and you assess your risk correctly in the end, does this link to improved decision-making result in increases in your performance?

So what if my client can become aware of his heart's desires? So what if my client improved the emotional intelligence competency of adaptability?  He may be better at not being a slave to his impulses, but what effect does this have on his performance? Isn’t it all about performance in the end? Maybe, but maybe not!

Emotional Intelligence and Performance

As you probably have guessed there is strong link in the leadership literature between Emotional Intelligence and performance.

For example, Chew, Zain, and Hassan's report on positive social interaction with peers facilitated cognitive and intellectual development that led to good academic performance among medical students. (The relationship between the social management of emotional intelligence and academic performance among medical studentsBoon-How Chew, Azhar Md. Zain, Faezah Hassan, Psychology, Health & Medicine Vol. 20, Iss. 2, 2015).

  • My client could ensure his social interactions at work remain positive, and focus on the value he gets out of the relationships at work as a surrogate for performance.

Bar-On, Handley, and Fund empirically demonstrate that EI does indeed impact performance in their studies of the United States Air Force and the Israeli Defense Forces. In one study of officer selection those with leadership potential had significantly higher scores than those who didn’t have potential. The EI competencies that predicted officer selection are: Interpersonal Relationships, Stress Tolerance, Empathy, Independence, Reality Testing, Problem Solving, Self-Regard, Emotional Self-Awareness, and Happiness.

  • My client could take an EI assessment, benchmark where his emotional intelligence is currently, then work on his level of Self-Regard (confidence) to improve his performance as an example.

Is It All About Performance?

Absolutely yes, and absolutely no! Some of you may struggle with this absolute dichotomy. The way I see it, leadership is performance, and how you get there is equally important as getting there. We all know too many leaders who reached stated objectives then left the organization a disaster. What you do and how you do it matter a lot.

What matters besides performance? How about character?

Enter KRW International, a group of leadership consultants who found that CEOs whose employees gave them high marks for character had an average return on assets of 9.35% over a two-year period. That’s nearly five times as much as what those with low character ratings had; their ROA averaged only 1.93%. (

  • In all of the emotion surrounding my client, he must keep in mind that his character matters! Keeping the big picture of living true to himself and his morals in mind is significant as he develops as a leader.

The End of the Story

Let’s try and put a bow around what is going on with my client and the link to emotional intelligence.

  • He is smart enough to be in the role. 
  • The emotions he is feeling are real. 
  • The situation he is experiencing is happening. 
  • He can be more intelligent in learning how to use his emotions.
  • This improvement can lead to better performance.
  • The "what" of performance and the "how" of character matter.

So, how are you doing? What is your story? Are there places where your emotions may be impacting your judgment and decision-making? Are there any steps you need to take as a leader to assess how becoming more intelligent with your emotions could improve your performance and your character?  

Let me know if I can help.

Free Offer

For those of you who would like to learn more about emotional intelligence, I would like to offer you a free gift. You can download Chapter 3 of my book “Seven Secrets of an Emotionally Intelligent Coach” absolutely free.  Click Here to get your copy today!