Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and those of the people around you.

People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they're feeling. They understand what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people--and they apply that same perception and understanding to those around them.

For leaders, emotional intelligence is essential for success. After all, who is more likely to succeed--a leader who responds to stress with shouting and impulsive decisions, or one who can calmly and firmly assess the situation and manage the circumstances?

Here are seven ways to unlock your hidden emotional intelligence.

1. Be emotionally aware.

Make a deliberate daily effort to pay attention to your emotions and behaviors, your actions and reactions. Consider how they affect you and those around you.

2. Hold yourself accountable.

Being in control of your emotions and moods is a basic element of personable responsibility. When you can regulate your responses, you avoid making bad decisions in the heat of the moment--and ultimately, you learn to regulate your state of mind.

3. Be confident in yourself and your team.

Knowing that you can master the moment, that you and those around you have the skills and abilities to come out on top of a crisis situation, gives you the ability to react appropriately to whatever life brings--and to set that example for others.

4. Bring your empathy.

Empathy is the highest order of emotional intelligence. When you can see with the eyes of another, listen with the ears of another, and feel with the heart of another, a whole new level of understanding and communication opens up to you.

5. Be a motivator.

When you have emotional mastery, you're able to choose wisely between short-term comfort and long-term goals, between what you want now and what you want most. And developing your personal motivation gives you insight into motivating others.

6. Create a safe zone.

Making others feel comfortable and secure, not having to weigh each thought or measure every word, encourages the kind of open communication that characterizes great teams.

7. Treat people with respect.

Those with strong emotional intelligence are typically respectful of others. Rather than focus on your own success first, help others develop and shine by respecting their strengths and talents. Remember that to give respect is to get respect.

People with high emotional intelligence are usually successful in most things they do. Because they have a deep understanding of self, they make others feel good about themselves, and they go through life with much more ease and enthusiasm.

Building a strong emotional intelligence will not only impact your leadership, it will change your life, and the lives of those around you.