Why do some leaders garner respect and dedication while others divide and diminish? Research shows it is not technical skills, IQ, or breeding. Those at the top frequently have a quintessential skill in common, high emotional intelligence (EI). We all have our innate level of EI, but research shows that we can strengthen our skills by practice and feedback. Whether you are climbing the corporate ladder or leading a start up, high EI is irreplaceable. Without it, a person can have the best training, connections, and funding, but will never lead according to their full potential.


EI is not just about being likable and charismatic. Daniel Goleman, the author who originally conceptualized EI, describes five main components. The first, self-awareness, is the ability to recognize and understand your moods and emotions. This is observed in an individual's level of self confidence, realistic views of strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to show humor and perspective. Next, is self regulation.  This is the ability to understand your internal reactions and redirect your impulses.  When an individual is able to self monitor and respond intentionally rather than impulsively he or she is demonstrating self regulation. Motivation is the third component. People with high EI work for reasons that go beyond finances and status.  They have a strong desire to achieve and remain optimistic even in the face of failure. Empathy is another telltale  trait of those with high EI.  When a leader is empathic, they understand the emotional landscape in the office, and the nuances of individual employees. Empathic leaders appreciate the importance of cross cultural factors, and are sensitive to the needs of their clients and customers. Lastly, people with high EI have superior social skills.  They are proficient in making personal connections, growing their network, and facilitating relationships with other.  


How can you groom your EI? Actively seek feedback from your supervisors and peers, and those reporting to you. Many of us fear the worst when it comes to performance reviews.  Nevertheless, it is critical to understand how we impact others, and how our colleagues think we can improve.  It is common to react to criticism with anger or resignation, but adaptive to move beyond them emotions.  Using a  technique called "reframing" can help you to gain perspective. Imagine a scenario in which you were told you have not  contributed enough to a project. You immediately feel defensive and hurt.  These emotions can lead to irritability, isolation, and decreased motivation. However, it is also possible to reframe the information to help forward your career. Perhaps you can learn to document your contributions or showcase your accomplishments. Remember, performance reviews are not a statement of character, but rather a critique of  behavior, which is fluid and under your control.

You can also build your EI by doing this simple exercise a few times a day. Choose a cue in your environment, for example, turning on your computer,  putting  your key in the door, or drinking a cup of coffee.  It does not matter what it is,  as long as it is a regular occurrence that you notice. Next, look inward and tune into your emotional state. Are you happy, sad, mad, neutral? What are your thoughts? Are they helping you to feel positive and connected to others, or moving you away from your colleagues and important relationships?  If you notice that you are in a negative place, work on reframing. Take a few deep breaths, and try to bring your awareness to the present moment.  Once your brain is fully wired in the moment, build a perspective that moves you towards your personal values.  Practicing this exercise over time will help you become more aware of your emotions and how to transform them into productive behavioral patterns.