Employee engagement at work continues its steady decline, with 70 percent of workers feeling dissatisfied, underutilized, unloved, bored, and the list goes on. And this should sound the alarm for company leaders of organizations of all shapes and sizes.

The problem isn't going to fix itself, especially if leaders sit idly by and conduct business as usual. Employees look to the top for cues on how to act and how to feel at work, and they're more likely to lead inspired and purposeful office lives if they see it in action among their colleagues.

The idea of learning how to learn, and by extension learning how to be be satisfied at a job, is catching on more and more as organizations are seeing the value of developing skills that drive at purpose and intention. And no skill is more valuable to the long-term health of your leaders, your employees and your organization than emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

Contrary to what the name may imply, emotional intelligence is not something humans are born with. In fact, it has almost nothing to do with "intelligence" or book smarts at all.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a skill that can be practiced and improved over time and is crucial for employees and business leaders to master so they can properly absorb the behaviors that lead to learning in other avenues.

EQ is the ability to understand human emotions in oneself or in others, then use that information to facilitate thoughts and make decisions. A degree from a prestigious university looks nice framed on a wall, but IQ is actually not as reliable an indicator of leadership skill and success as EQ. That's because leaders who have practiced and improved their EQ are better able to relate to others, are more adaptable to change and are better listeners.

Improvements in EQ come before competency in other areas

Yes, you want your employees to be great at what they do. You can't have a high-functioning organization without a team that puts the basic core competencies of their roles on display. However, training people to do specific tasks and perform specific functions isn't as effective without the background of emotional intelligence.

EQ is fascinating because it's really a study of how the brain works. It requires honest personal assessment about the ways in which an individual reacts or feels in different situations. You can give a sales rep a script to follow when dealing with a customer and teach them how to score responses all day, but if they haven't learned to manage their reactions to stress they won't truly perform at the highest possible level.

In our organization, we recognized the power of EQ learning for our leaders to break through personal barriers and do a better job communicating with, and inspiring, their teams. EQ can be thought of as another form of mindfulness training in that it increases awareness and focus on what's happening in the moment, versus letting the moment get too big by giving energy to thoughts and situations that aren't actually happening.

EQ improves collaboration, customer service and competency

It's no surprise empathetic interactions foster greater collaboration and workplace happiness. Last year, we turned our focus on training our team (starting with leadership) on basic tenets of mindful and purposeful behavior. Some of these tenets included, the ability to see an experience through another person's lens even if you've never experienced the same thing yourself, transparently approaching others for emotional-based feedback and reliably learning how to take an extra moment before responding to a question or critical statement.

As a result of our initiatives, we've seen our overall employee engagement improve from 6.7 to 8.5 on a 10-point scale, and anecdotal evidence witnessing the trickle-down effect from leadership to junior teams backs up that score.

A happy, more engaged workplace means individuals are acting on behalf of an overall mission. And this cultural alignment is evident in interactions with customers.

Strengthening EQ leads to guaranteed shifts in mindset and also behavior, which carries over externally. Another benefit? Your team will be more mentally ready to receive competency training and apply the why's of EQ to the how's of your particular system.

Instilling learning skills in your team now should be done with the goal of grooming each and every member of your organization for future leadership success later in their careers. The best way to do that is through the examples of emotional intelligence displayed by your current leaders. When people understand the reasons behind their actions, they're much more ready to accept new behavioral training that will inspire personal growth.