Great leaders are smart, creative, inspirational and fearless. They also tend to score highly on tests designed to calculate their emotional intelligence (EQ).

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Emotional intelligence is a powerful leadership asset. Those who have it find it much easier to empathize with others, navigate interpersonal conflict, regulate their reactions and communicate in a way that supports harmony and mutual respect in the workplace. Who wouldn’t want to work for a boss that does that? 

Before we go any further, let's clarify that emotional intelligence isn’t one supercharged trait – it’s actually a combination of traits that allows people to better understand and manage their emotions, as well as the emotions of others. These are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Other awareness (awareness of what other people are thinking and feeling)
  • Emotional control
  • Empathy
  • Wellness

All of these categories are relevant to leadership, and a truly great leader will be skilled in all of these areas. What does that look like in practice? Let's find out. 

Traits of self-aware leaders

Leaders who score highly in self-awareness understand their own emotions, and use that understanding to help them react in favorable ways. Self-awareness is vital for effective leadership because leaders never want to let their emotions get the better of them when they’re dealing with employees, customers or upper management. It is both unhelpful and unprofessional to react spontaneously to a rush of emotions you don’t understand. 

You know you’re a self-aware leader when:  

  • You know how you feel and can name those feelings.
  • You can identify when your ego is getting in the way. 
  • You don't lash out in frustration, even if something is provoking you or you’re disappointed by circumstances you can’t control.
  • You can keep your feelings in check to adopt a steady and predictable public face.
  • You can express your emotions openly if you believe this will help motivate the members of your group, but mute your reactions if you suspect they will create chaos or undermine your authority – an important balancing act.
  • You can react in a measured and appropriate manner in every situation. 

Traits of other-aware leaders

Effective leadership is virtually unthinkable without a high level of awareness of the emotions of others. Leaders who are sensitive to others can adjust their behavior to motivate, influence or reassure their teammates that everything is okay, even when they have some doubts about that themselves.

You know you’re an other aware leader when:

  • You can interpret people’s body language, facial expressions and vocal tones. 
  • You can customize the way you approach others based on your observations of them, such as how they respond to praise or criticism or anything in between. 
  • You can tailor your communication style to get more support and buy-in for your plans.
  • You can influence more effectively without being manipulative. 
  • You can make sure that everyone feels acknowledged and treated with respect even if they are not 100% in agreement with you.
  • You look out for your team.

Traits of leaders with good emotional control

Leaders with good emotional control manage to stay cool and calm under pressure. They exude a kind of inner confidence that makes others believe that a calamitous situation can be rescued, and they can salvage a project that’s about to go down in flames. Others feel safe when they are supported by an emotionally controlled leader. 

You know you are an emotionally controlled leader when:

  • You don’t panic or give in to defeatism.
  • You keep your feelings in check and approach situations rationally.
  • You keep it together, even when you’ve hit a bump or two in the road.
  • You pause to reflect before you respond.
  • You can quickly calm down after an exciting or distressing event. 
  • You know when to let your feelings out and when to keep them to yourself, to maximize your effectiveness for yourself and the team.

Traits of empathetic leaders

Empathy can be defined as taking on others’ emotions as if they were your own, feeling their pain and reacting to it with total sympathy. Unsurprisingly, emotional intelligence in leadership is almost always synonymous with a high level of empathy. Those who possess this core aspect of effective leadership are able to see things from the perspective of their teammates, understanding what they’re feeling and why.

You know you are an empathetic leader when:

  • You can relate to your co-workers or teammates. 
  • You involve people in the conversation and use active listening to gain perspective.
  • You are genuinely interested in what others think and say.
  • You make employees feel taken care of. 
  • You use your compassion to build inclusive teams that are built on mutual understanding and respect.

Traits of leaders with high levels of wellness

People who score highly in the EQ category of wellness have achieved a state of emotional and psychological equilibrium. They are steady on the inside, and that helps them handle situations and relationships with calmness and aplomb.

You know you have wellness as a leader when:

  • You are hopeful and enthusiastic about your possibilities for personal growth.
  • You are proud of your resilience and your capacity to make lemonade out of lemons.
  • You inspire others to try harder and keep going.
  • You radiate optimism and a can-do attitude. 
  • You do an excellent job of playing peacemaker when conflicts break out. 
  • You have an open-door policy and receive other people’s views or concerns openly.
  • It takes a lot to make you feel overwhelmed by a situation.

Emotional Intelligence puts leaders on the fast track to success!

If you’re currently serving in a leadership position, you can gain some tremendous insights into your strengths and weaknesses by taking an emotional intelligence test. The results will provide you with valuable data that will help you recognize what you need to work on to improve your performance.

The good news is that you can develop better emotional intelligence in leadership over time. If you’re willing to make the effort to do so, your chances of finding success (and your team members’ chances of finding success) will increase dramatically. Good luck!


Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.