The correlation between emotional intelligence and leadership

The correlation between emotional intelligence and leadership

Modern leaders differ significantly from their predecessors. For centuries, authoritarian or autocratic leadership was the most accepted leadership-ideology in many parts of the world. Leaders of the past were often conceptualized as “great men” who had enough financial resources and reputation in society to pursue positions of authority. By the end of the 20th century, the situation gradually shifted toward leaders who can easily interact with their followers. Emotional intelligence (EI) has become a component of successful leadership in the globalized world. Leaders should be aware of their emotional aspect of leadership; they should be sensitive to the feelings of followers and stakeholders to create a climate of trust and motivation to pursue ambitious organizational objectives.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is one of the most popular concepts in contemporary organizational and leadership literature. It was first coined at the beginning of the 1990s to outline the key emotional dimensions of leadership and emphasize their importance within organizations (McCleskey, 2014). Numerous definitions of EI have been proposed since then. However, for this discussion, EI should be treated as a leader’s “ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and expressed emotion; […] the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge” (McCleskey, 2014, p. 78). Putting it simply, EI includes two essential components. Firstly, it is the component of emotion – leaders are humans who can be emotional and who, by their position in the organizational hierarchy, should be aware of the emotional aspect of their leadership. Secondly, it is the component of knowledge: leaders should possess high levels of emotional self-awareness. They should be aware of the emotions and feelings experienced by their followers. These two ideas can lay a roadmap for achieving remarkable successes in leadership.

EI is one of the critical antecedents of successful leadership. Leaders who score high on EI are also perceived as more successful by their followers, as compared to leaders who lack an emotional component. Such leaders are not afraid of being emotional in front of their followers. As a result, they often hold a more “humane” image than leaders who try to play a “no emotions” game.

EI contributes to successful leadership because it improves leaders’ ability to understand and manage the emotions and feelings of their followers. The latter seek an emotional connection with their leaders. They need to be actively involved in organizational decisions and leadership processes. The most successful leaders welcome follower involvement and try to act with their followers on a horizontal basis. EI adds to and refines these processes, as emotionally intelligent leaders can easily sense changes in followers feelings and readjust their decisions and organizational processes to meet their emotional needs. Emotionally intelligent leaders also know the strengths and weaknesses of their followers. Using their knowledge of follower emotional needs and their own self-awareness, leaders with high EI levels can find areas of agreement and use them to build a climate of trust and collaboration.

EI is an attribute of successful leaders since it expands the boundaries of their talent and broadens their organizational worldview. As Tracy (2017) says, doing business is by itself a very emotional experience. In fact, public and non-profit organizations also operate in a highly emotional environment. Therefore, modern leaders should often look beyond figures and see passionate personalities behind workplace positions and business projects. Emotions can impact the way leaders interpret the most straightforward events (Tracy, 2017).

In most cases, taking emotions into account can give leaders a powerful competitive edge. For example, they can easily guess if the follower or customer is satisfied with the quality of their cooperation even if the numbers look promising. As a result, emotionally intelligent leaders can take a holistic action to achieve the desired effect.

EI is critical for successful leaders because emotional self-awareness and emotional sensitivity improve the quality of leader-follower relationships and motivate followers to work to the best of their capacity at all times. The relationship between leader EI and follower motivation is quite complex. It is possible to assume that leaders who are sensitive to the emotional needs of their employers experience higher levels of follower trust and commitment. Followers who see that their leaders are eager to understand their emotional state and provide resources to improve their emotional state will certainly display more commitment and readiness to pursue the goals set by the leader. All in all, EI is a suitable means for leaders to achieve remarkable organizational results. In a world that is so competitive and emotional, leaders with high levels of EI will have everything needed to excel in positions of power.

In conclusion, EI and successful leadership are closely related. EI entails a leader’s ability to understand emotions. High levels of EI indicate that leaders have high levels of emotional self-awareness. They also imply that leaders can sense and address the emotional issues facing their followers. Both dimensions of EI create a climate of trust and motivation in leader-follower relationships. Emotionally intelligent leaders know their strong and weak emotional sides. They are also more sensitive to changes in the emotional state of their followers. They are better positioned to handle relationships with customers and stakeholders since they can look beyond numbers. These are the underlying reasons why leaders should cultivate EI.

Ed.’s Note: Samuel Alemu, Esq is a partner at the ILBSG, LLP. His partner at the ILBSG, LLP, Praveen C. Medikundam, Esq contributed to this article. They are both admitted to the bar associations of New York State, United States Tax Court, and the United States Court of International Trade. Samuel can be reached at

Contributed by Samuel Alemu

Note: released first on Reporter English

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