Leading with Heart: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Building Strong Teams

Until I became a leader myself, I thought leadership was all direction, all the time…

I share this often – but that is because it was the starting point of the most dramatic paradigm shift in my leadership.

From the moment I could hold a broom in my two hands, I was directed to help out around the house. My mother would tell me to do something and I would do it. Not because I wanted to help or because I wanted to honor her request. But because that was my only option if I did not want to incur consequences.

I did not realize the role that relationship plays in leadership until I was a leader myself.

When I was first promoted, I was the kind of leader to say, “Jump,” and expect my employees to ask, “How high?” and I quickly learned that was not effective in the workplace.

Or at least, it wasn’t effective if I wanted there to be room for development.

People can only consider instruction and direction as much as they regard the person giving them. So while they may complete tasks because it is their job or there is some consequence for not doing so, their results are capped. They will only invest themselves in a relationship that inspires them.

In order to maximize my team’s potential, I had to lead them relationally – and to do that, I had to develop my emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. And in the years since making this shift, I have seen research confirm what I suspected back then: emotional intelligence is foundational to relational leadership!

With improved emotional intelligence, we have more of an ability to…

  • connect with other people socially
  • build trust
  • communicate effectively
  • navigate conflict
  • maintain positive relationships
  • empathize with and understand the needs of others
  • manage our own emotions

…all things I had to do better if I wanted to lead effectively.

I was starting at a bit of a disadvantage. Emotional intelligence was not a skill I thought I would need as a leader – I had not even set out to be a leader, and I certainly did not think I would need a high EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) as an auto engineer.

I was at a bit of a loss as to how to develop my EQ.

I realized it starts with awareness. That is where emotional intelligence can begin to grow. Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” The better we understand, the more power and options we have to intelligently and intentionally direct ourselves.

Here were the three steps I found helpful…

1. Identifying emotions.

Naming emotions is harder than you might think. Sociology professor Brené Brown and her team headed up a study to see how many emotions participants could identify in the moment that they were experiencing them – turns out, only three of the 87 she outlined in her book Atlas of the Heart.

Naming our emotions brings clarity to what we are feeling; once we know what the emotion is, we can start asking other questions that bring us to further awareness, like “What triggered this emotion?” and “How do I act when I feel this way?”

Improving awareness of our emotions also helps us better perceive others’ emotions.

2. Managing emotions.

Let’s say you were looking for a way to manage your weight. You would go to the doctor, have them assess you and maybe run some tests, and then based on what they see, they would offer you some advice.

Awareness equips us to regulate better. Knowing what we feel and what triggers those feelings helps us better prepare for triggering situations in the future, and knowing how we respond and why helps us consider the most constructive way forward.

3. Building relationships.

The most effective way to learn a new skill is to put it into practice, right?

Emotional intelligence serves us in navigating our own internal lives as well as cultivating relationships with others, understanding their emotions, and responding to their needs. And when our team members feel that we see them as people, not just as roles, titles, and numbers, they feel “seen” enough to invest in our leadership and our organization’s overall mission.

Hopefully this helps serve your leadership goals in the new year. Or, if you are looking for a better tailored solution, I encourage you to schedule a consultation call and together we can create a development plan that grows you toward your 2023 goals.

That’s all for now,


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