Why Emotional Intelligence is Important in Leadership

How to fix communication disconnects and lack of employee engagement by polishing the “soft skills” of leadership in your organization.

Blue-collar industries continue to struggle with labor shortages, costs, high turnover, productivity, and employee engagement. Not only is it increasingly difficult to find labor, but keeping it is also becoming more challenging, especially during peak seasons. Many professionals have left their industries altogether, seeking less mentally and physically strenuous roles. Compensation increases and accommodations only address part of the issue and are often a short-term solution, as true and lasting employee engagement comes from strong leadership that strives to understand and connect with their people and keep them motivated.

In the age of artificial intelligence, social media, remote work, and an increasingly digitized society, we are moving further and further away from the fundamentals of humanity. We have never had more ways to connect, yet in the wake of this shift, social and emotional intelligence (EI or EQ), or “soft skills,” have declined, causing significant workforce issues such as disconnects in communication, poor decision-making, and lack of employee engagement and satisfaction. Now more than ever, EI is a valuable and highly sought-after skill in the workplace, especially in leadership.

To better understand the benefits and need for EI in today’s workplace, we will define it and its contextual application in the workplace, evaluate its influence on the workforce, and explore resources and strategies for leaders and employees to improve EI in their organizations.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

According to psychologists and leading researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in oneself and others.

EI comprises five distinct components: self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. In the 1990s, emotional intelligence was initially established as a psychological construct and gained momentum with Daniel Goleman’s 1995 publication “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Goleman, an EI expert, argues that while traditional intelligence is essential, emotional competencies are a critical factor in the workplace, ultimately impacting leadership ability, stress management, employee performance, and interpersonal functioning—

“The interest in emotional intelligence in the workplace stems from the widespread recognition that these abilities – self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skill – separate the most successful workers and leaders from the average. This is especially true in roles like the professions and higher-level executives, where everyone is about as smart as everyone else, and how people manage themselves and their relationships gives the best an edge.” (Goleman, 2012).

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, seven key traits deem someone as emotionally intelligent:

  1. Emotional stability: greater ability to manage their own emotions and tolerate stress
  2. Conscientiousness: tendency to be diligent, hardworking, and control impulses
  3. Extraversion: a personality trait that makes people more open and better at establishing relationships with others
  4. Ability EI: individuals’ ability to perform emotion-related behaviors, like expressing emotions, empathizing with others, and combining emotion with reasoning
  5. Cognitive ability: IQ; studies suggest there is at least some overlap between IQ and EQ
  6. General self-efficacy: confidence in the ability to cope with the demands of our job
  7. Self-rated job performance (Bailey, 2015).

It may seem obvious how these competencies positively influence the workplace, especially for a grower or garden retailer, but understanding the how and why of EI implementation is imperative to the future of our industry.

The Benefits of EI in Your Operation

While there are many areas that emotional intelligence benefits the workplace, two are of vital consideration: job satisfaction and job performance. Not only is higher job satisfaction linked to employees with strong EI but also to those whom leaders with high EI manage. Many studies have shown a negative correlation between EI and burnout and a positive correlation between EI and internal job satisfaction. In addition to employee happiness, job performance is positively impacted by high EI levels, displayed through increased performance metrics, a boost in employee productivity, and improved evaluations from management. However, how exactly does emotional intelligence influence job performance and benefit businesses? In the hospitality sector, EI is considered extremely important, and according to an article in Elite World Hotels, they have identified five significant advantages of EI in the workplace that can be applied to any industry:

  1. Motivation: high EI/EQ translates to better control of our motivation and perhaps even more motivation for our coworkers.
  2. Common vision: those high in EI/EQ can more effectively understand and communicate with others, making it easier to develop and maintain a shared team vision.
  3. Change: highly emotionally intelligent people can handle the stress, uncertainty, and anxiety that come with working in business.
  4. Communication: clear communication is a telltale sign of emotional intelligence, and it contributes to better relationships, an easier time getting help from others, and more effective persuasion and influence of others.
  5. Leadership: self-leadership, leading others, and influencing others— all of these are vital for those in business. (Elite World Hotels, 2018)

Therefore, a lack of emotional intelligence in the workplace can negatively impact a company's communication, decision-making, and organization. Moreover, much like standard workplace metrics, emotional intelligence can be assessed and measured in the workplace.

Resources & Strategies

There are many reliable and valid measures of EI available, two of the most credible being the Multidimensional Emotional Intelligence Assessment – Workplace (MEIA-W) and the Work Group Emotional Intelligence Profile (WEIP).

The MEIA-W measure provides a personality-based measure of EI through 144 short items that are intended to measure ten distinct facets of emotional intelligence: recognition of emotion in the self, regulation of emotion in the self, recognition of emotion in others, regulation of emotion in others, nonverbal emotional expression, empathy, intuition versus reason, creative thinking, mood redirected attention, and motiving emotions and takes about 20 minutes to complete.

The WEIP is a self-report measure consisting of 30 points rated from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) between two scales determining the ability to deal with one’s own emotions and the ability to deal with others’ emotions.

Utilizing these two resources is essential in beginning the process of measuring EI in an organization. From there, leaders can further train their employees on EI and how to teach it to their staff and themselves. A helpful guide created by EI experts (Cherniss et al., 1998) details four phases to use when implementing emotional intelligence training in your organization:

Phase One: Preparation

  • Assessing the organization’s needs
  • Assessing personal strengths and limitations
  • Providing feedback with care
  • Maximizing learner choice
  • Encouraging participation, not requiring it
  • Linking learning goals to personal values
  • Adjusting expectations
  • Gauging readiness

Phase Two: Training

  • Fostering a positive relationship between the trainer and the learner
  • Maximizing self-directed change
  • Setting clear goals
  • Breaking those goals into manageable steps
  • Maximizing opportunities to practice emotional intelligence
  • Providing frequent feedback on that practice
  • Relying on experiential, hands-on methods
  • Building in support for your staff
  • Using models of desirable behavior
  • Enhancing insight into emotions and thought patterns
  • Preventing relapse by preparing people for mental slips

Phase Three: Transfer

This phase is all about transferring and maintaining the skills learned by

  • Encouraging the use of the skills learned on the job
  • Providing an organizational culture that supports learning

Phase Four: Evaluation

This phase is focused on evaluating the change that has come about from training. In this phase, you should conduct ongoing evaluation research (Cherniss et al., 1998).

Understanding emotional intelligence is not only beneficial in business but in life. People are not made of business— business is made of people. We all have emotions, which inevitably shape how we navigate our relationships with ourselves and others. Understanding how to interpret our internal processes allows us to be more self-aware and, ultimately, improves our ability to connect and correspond with others professionally and personally. Now more than ever, understanding and implementing emotional intelligence is needed in the modern workforce, and taking steps to make a change will only benefit your operation.

Subscribe to the Team Engine newsletter

This article was co-authored by Paige Franks and Todd Downing. It originally appeared on  Greenhouse Grower and was republished with permission.


Want our latest and greatest delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter and get regular deliveries in one click.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.