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What Sets Great Leaders Apart? Emotional Intelligence

Our leaders can make or break our experience at work. But what is it that good leaders do differently? How do they create an environment where employees feel motivated and fulfilled?


According to a recent study from Yale University, supervisors’ emotional intelligence (including the way they respond to their own emotions and those of others) is crucial to their ability to create positive work relationships with those they manage. Leaders who act in emotionally intelligent ways are able to accurately perceive employees’ feelings and acknowledge when someone is disappointed or concerned about work changes. These leaders help people channel their various emotions—ranging from enthusiasm to frustration—into achieving important goals. They understand how different events, changes, or decisions impact employees, and can help employees manage their experiences at work (e.g., being upset or confused).


Having an emotionally intelligent leader can be a game changer for employees. When asked to describe how they feel about their work, two-thirds of employees whose supervisors acted in emotionally intelligent ways mentioned positive emotions (especially feelings of growth, motivation, engagement, and feeling appreciated). Conversely, 70% of those whose supervisors did not act in emotionally intelligent ways described negative work feelings (e.g., feeling angry and unappreciated). In addition to employees' feelings, leaders’ emotional intelligence also affects employees’ performance. Leaders' emotional intelligence influences employees' perceptions of growth opportunities, which in turn, affects how much creativity employees show at work.


The good news is that more than two decades of research show that the skills and attitudes of emotional intelligence can be successfully taught at work. Organizations should invest in building emotional intelligence skills in their leaders and work to create an awareness that acting in emotionally intelligent ways improves not only employees’ experience at work, but also the bottom line.


Keywords: emotional intelligence, leadership, creativity

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