Emotional intelligence for leaders

Use the activities provided to improve emotional intelligence related to leading, managing or supporting employees.

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Why emotional intelligence?

Many of us did not receive training on how to actually lead when we entered leadership roles. Because of this, we may not have anticipated the emotional cost of leadership. This can impact our mental health and the mental health of those we lead, manage and support. We can reduce our own stress while positively impacting the effectiveness of our teams by improving our emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage our own emotions, as well as recognize and appropriately respond to the emotional distress of others.

Leaders with strong emotional intelligence:

  • Understand emotional triggers
  • Are aware of their automatic assumptions about other people’s behaviour
  • Listen first, without interrupting, and acknowledge and validate what they hear
  • Ask questions that recognize another person’s positive strengths
  • Employ reflective listening skills
  • Provide negative feedback in a respectful, helpful and effective manner
  • Regularly touch base with each person who works under their supervision


Improve your personal emotional intelligence. The activities offered in Emotional intelligence for employees can help you in and out of your role as a leader.

Try this activity in which you envision your ideal self. Most of us will find some differences between the realistic and ideal versions of ourselves. Identify these areas and create goals to improve them.

Your behaviours may not always reflect the type of individual you perceive yourself to be. Try this activity in which you envision yourself through others’ perspectives

Listen and connect

Communicate with emotional employees. These strategies can help you have supportive conversations with employees who may be dealing with health problems or life stressors. These skills are useful for all relationships in which you want to be helpful.

Getting employee commitment. This approach helps employees commit to their own success and has them explain what they need to succeed. Responding to impractical requests without disappointing employees is a valuable skill.

Connect with your team. In a busy work environment, it can be hard to make time to practice the finer elements of social interaction, like building genuine connections with your team.

Elicit feedback. Learn how to seek employee feedback in a productive and psychologically safe way.

Lead with positivity. Negative talk can be highly destructive for morale and can easily lead to negative emotions in the workplace. Positive talk, on the other hand, can have just as strong a beneficial effect. Speaking with employees individually, and expressing your respect and appreciation for their work, is a powerful way to build morale.

Learn to listen and reflect. When an employee is upset or in crisis, listening to understand their perspective can help you avoid increasing their distress. Reflective (or active) listening can help you more accurately understand not only what they’re saying (verbal communication), but also read non-verbal communication.

There is an art to approaching employees in a spirit of appreciative inquiry. This involves asking questions that recognize workers’ positive strengths by affirming their past and present achievements, abilities and potentials.

Giving negative feedback can be uncomfortable. A number of factors can get in the way of providing negative feedback to others. Typically, such barriers are about how the recipients will feel or react emotionally, both within themselves and directly outward. It’s common to be apprehensive that recipients may turn against you.

Recognize different needs and views. When we’re stressed, it is not unusual for us to struggle to say exactly what we mean. Effective listening can help managers better problem-solve and generate solutions that meet everyone’s needs. When you acknowledge an employee’s perspective, without agreeing or disagreeing with what they’re saying, you send the strong signal that you understand how they feel even though you may or may not agree.

Team activities for leaders. These help you raise the emotional intelligence and resilience of your team right along with you. Most activities take 30 minutes or fewer and can be done virtually or in person. 

Emotionally intelligent feedback

Give negative feedback positively. Critiquing is a large part of managerial work. It can help guide workers to better performance and ultimately benefit the whole team. Learn how to Provide negative feedback constructively.

Performance management has additional tips and techniques for giving feedback that supports your employees’ success.

Recognition strategies for leaders. Learn how to express respect and appreciation to your employees.

Conflict response for leaders. This psychologically safe approach provides a clear path forward. 

Strengthening leadership skills. This booklet of activities can help you build leadership skills, including emotional intelligence, resilience and communication strategies. 

Building trust for leaders. Learn how to show your employees you’re trustworthy by exploring these core competencies and behaviours.

Workshop materials

This workshop helps participants understand their own emotional triggers, explore the functions of emotions, reflect on when behaviours are a symptom of emotions and respond more effectively to the emotions of others.

Take the self-assessment

The free Emotional intelligence self-assessment takes about 10 minutes to complete. The results will highlight your strengths, as well as areas in which you can benefit from additional skills training. It covers 4 areas:

  • Self-awareness – your ability to accurately identify your emotions, understand why you react the way you do and recognize your impact on others. 
  • Self-management – your ability to effectively regulate stress and appropriately express emotional reactions, whether alone or with others. 
  • Social awareness – your ability to understand others’ emotions and reactions and respond in a supportive and non-judgmental manner. 
  • Relationship management – your ability to communicate in an assertive, respectful and non-defensive manner, particularly when providing feedback or managing interpersonal conflict.
Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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