The Value of Emotional Intelligence

Mar 11, 2020

Eric Schulz is a strategist and business coach for healthcare organizations throughout the western United States.

He can be reached at

Smarts. Know-how. Brains. These are the attributes we typically expect in our leaders. We look for leaders that can think their way out of difficult situations or invent new ways of doing things. They are the ones who will get things done. We call these leaders intelligent. However, we can see that there are “leaders,” and then there are “leaders of people.” The phrase “leader of people” gets used a lot in sports when describing an athlete or coach who connects with those around them in an emotional way. This allows them to lead their team to greatness. It’s interesting that we even have the phrase, but it makes a profound point. Not every leader connects in this way.

Emotions in sports, politics, or business may seem out of place. However, emotional self-control and social awareness of others’ emotions, described by author and social scientist Daniel Goleman’s “emotional intelligence”, are critical components to effective leadership. Emotional intelligence is one crucial difference between good and great leaders.

Webster’s Dictionary clarifies on Goleman’s description by succinctly defining emotional intelligence as:

“The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”

Looking closely, Webster’s definition of emotional intelligence has two parts. The first is internal, relating to how we interact with our own emotions. The second is external, referring to how we interact with others’ emotions. Goleman’s work on the topic of emotional intelligence indicates that both parts are necessary to increase a leader’s success.

Internal Focus

I recently consulted with a leader, who we name Jerry, who was not just extremely intelligent; he exhibited exceptional emotional intelligence. This quality allows Jerry to interact genuinely with his employees, partners, and vendors. In particular, he remains calm despite a frenzy of input all around him. Even as his shareholders and employees demand more and more, Jerry exudes confidence. In our last meeting, Jerry was very reflective of his leadership. He admitted that below the calm surface there are many emotions at play. He feels disappointed when employees let him down, and he feels joy when they exceed his expectations. There is anxiety when his business struggles and delight when it succeeds. The emotions are all there. The key is his awareness of these emotions and his ability to control them in his interactions with others.

As a result of the internal emotional control, shareholders appreciate his steady hand, and Jerry’s employees benefit from his calm confidence. Jerry stated that his awareness and control of his emotions allow him greater clarity and creativity. Jerry’s keen emotional intelligence is not merely additive to his traditional intelligence. It is synergistic. Together his traditional and emotional intelligence has allowed him to turnaround multiple businesses and brought exponential growth to others. He’s the kind of leader every company wants.

External Focus

Succession is an incredibly difficult process for any business. I have consulted with many organizations as they struggled to find a way forward when a leader is moving toward retirement. During the succession process, these businesses focus primarily on mitigating the impact of these retirements on their productivity and external relationships. These are the aspects they needed to focus on to protect their businesses’ thinking about the future. However, I am often consulting with them for one reason; they are not considering the emotions of the person retiring.

Retirement is more than a career choice; it changes how we think about ourselves and how we relate to those around us. We redefine ourselves. Many people, particularly those that have been successful in their careers, struggle to find that new definition. Retirement is a cliff that most of us will jump off without any clue what lurks below or if a parachute will open behind us.

As these businesses worked to find ways to fill the void left by the retiree, problems developed. There were repeated arguments, delayed decision making, and exasperated employees and partners. People began avoiding meetings, while others who were near retirement began to dread their future announcements.

Through my work with them, the remaining leaders became aware of the emotions of their retirees. Once aware, they were able to act empathetically toward them. The empathy laid the groundwork for smooth and successful succession planning. The arguments faded, and business got back on track. Succession planning exemplifies the need to be aware of others’ emotions and to act judiciously and empathetically. The businesses described above show that when acting without the second part of emotional intelligence, emotions get in the way of the desired outcome. A smooth succession becomes impossible. With increased emotional intelligence, their succession planning got back on track.

Putting It Together

Experience, skill, and other types of traditional intelligence are the bricks by which we build our businesses. Emotional intelligence is the mortar that holds those bricks together. Our favorite bosses, coaches, teachers, and leaders possess it. They use their emotional intelligence to instill loyalty, confidence, and stability in those around them, and their businesses, teams, and students benefit as a result.

When seemingly irrational problems develop in your business, assess your emotional intelligence. Are you providing a steady hand by controlling your emotional responses and acting empathetic to others? Increased emotional intelligence can be the catalyst for generating long-lasting solutions.

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