Emotional Intelligence (EQ): The Foundation of Great Leadership

A young woman uses emotional intelligence during a staff meeting

If you’re a leader or an aspiring leader, emotional intelligence (EQ) is essential for your success. It helps you build relationships and communicate more effectively with the people you work with. In many ways, your reputation as a leader is built and maintained through meetings. Meetings may be, after all, the only time some people in the organization interact with you face-to-face.  

In EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, Justin Bariso breaks EQ down into four abilities. They are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Let’s look at how each of them contributes to the successful application of EQ to leadership communication. 


Self-awareness has two components. First, it involves being aware of how others perceive you. This type of self-awareness can be developed through video recording in a training environment, 360 assessments, or, less formally, through feedback from others. No matter how it is achieved, self-awareness always involves understanding that a particular behavior that feels one way to you may be perceived differently by others. For example, you may feel that you’re communicating the appropriate level of enthusiasm for the proposal you’re making. What others perceive is that your volume is low and your commitment is lackluster.  

Second, and in terms of EQ, self-awareness has to do with how aware you are of your feelings in a given situation. You may feel frustration, but you don’t think you’ve communicated it to others. But what feels to you like a calm restatement of your proposal may come across with a certain tone and seem impatient and dismissive to others. Awareness of differences between intention and perception is an important first step in developing communication skills, your EQ, and eventually, your leadership skills 


Self-awareness leads to the hard work of self-management. In the low-enthusiasm example above, you would need to know how much more energy you need to bring to your voice to communicate enthusiasm. That sounds simple enough, but the change you make may not feel comfortable to you. You may feel that you’re shouting or exaggerating and have a hard time maintaining an appropriate level of energy. It takes not only awareness but diligence to succeed.  

A similar process occurs with EQ. As Bariso says about self-management, “You can’t always control how you feel. But you can control how you react (or refrain from acting) upon those feelings.”  Again, not easy. Think about a time when you were interacting with someone, and your impatience quickly started to build. You can’t stop the feeling, but you can avoid displaying it.  

As leaders, self-management is especially important. It’s your responsibility to manage your emotions and communicate intentionally. You are a role model internally and the face of the organization for those outside of it.  

Social Awareness 

Social awareness is the ability to perceive the emotions others are experiencing. Sensitivity to the feelings of others helps you understand their perspectives and sets you up to adapt your behavior to their needs and wants. This is fundamental to effective communication, especially when you are a leader speaking for the organization.  

Insight into others’ emotions occurs in the moment an interaction takes place. It requires full engagement to listen to and observe what others are communicating both verbally and nonverbally.  

The skills and behaviors involved are these: 

  • Eye contact to the individuals you’re communicating with 
  • Observing non-verbal reactions 
  • Curiosity about their perspectives 
  • Pausing and listening well 
  • Feeling empathy for others 
  • Accepting another’s perspective and attitude 

Relationship Management 

Relationship management builds trust and rapport. Your response to what others are feeling helps you influence, motivate, and inspire the people you lead.   

Let’s look at a simple example, a meeting with your team to get their buy-in on a reorganization. As you begin to prepare, you keep in mind that what every person wants from every meeting they attend is a feeling of relevance and efficiency. If either of those feelings is missing, there’s a chance that they will feel frustrated and confused.  

This begins with the preparation phase.  

  • Consider what your audience might be feeling about your topic in advance of the meeting. Do they fear the reorg because they’re worried about their job or workload? 
  • Plan to clarify what you want the group to do, but don’t forget to include how you want them to feel. “When we’re finished today, I want you to understand how the reorg will affect your responsibilities. I also want you to feel comfortable moving forward because the changes we’re making will make everyone’s job easier.” 
  • Prepare a frame for your meeting to communicate your understanding of the listeners’ current situation, your goal and agenda, and how your team will benefit from the meeting. Such a frame will not only reflect your understanding of how they are feeling, but it will also be a promise of efficiency and relevance.  

EQ and Meeting Facilitation 

Put your EQ to work during meetings. Focus on making everyone in the group feel comfortable and welcome. 

  • Establish solid eye contact with all meeting participants. Don’t just connect with the people you know best or the highest-ranking people in the room. Doing this will make everyone feel welcome. 
  • Pay attention to how content lands with individuals and make adjustments. This will make people feel seen.  
  • Communicate clearly and in a way that will resonate with people. Don’t oversimplify, which can feel condescending, or overcomplicate, which can intimidate. 
  • Listen well and with curiosity. Stand or sit still, direct eye contact to the person talking, don’t interrupt, and pause to think before you respond. All of these things will make people feel part of the group and that their perspective matters.  
  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Be thoughtful and patient, and remember good things can come from disagreements. This will build trust with others. 
  • Keep the conversation focused and on track. This will make people feel that the meeting is a good use of their time.  

Improving your EQ is akin to developing your communication skills in that both require high levels of self-awareness and the ability to recognize and adapt to the needs of others. So, when planning and leading a meeting, let your EQ guide you.  

Pin It on Pinterest