Engaging people in their own growth and development unleashes potential and results in peak performance.

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

“Although we may continue to use the words smart or stupid, and while IQ tests may persist for certain purposes, the monopoly of those who believe in a single general intelligence has come to an end”. (Gardner, 1999 p.203)  Howard Gardner (1983, 1999) and Robert Sternberg (1997, 2000), leading authorities in the area of multiple intelligences, along with several other authors have written volumes on the existence of different types of intelligences.  They contend that the most commonly measured type of intelligence (analytical) does not correspond to success in life nor successful employment.  It is other forms of intelligence i.e., social, emotional, practical and/or interpersonal which have a greater bearing on success and satisfaction in the workplace.

Whether one identifies this intelligence as social, practical, interpersonal, or emotional, Daniel Goleman (1995, 1998) has popularized the term “emotional intelligence”.  Essentially, emotional intelligence refers to a collection of competencies and capacities that include; the understanding of others, both their motives and intentions, the ability to work with others effectively, an understanding and awareness of oneself, the ability to identify that which motivates and drives oneself towards goals, and the ability to control impulses.  This collection requires the capacity to honestly reflect inward and outward as one navigates though daily living experiences.  Although the experts may differ on the naming of this collection of abilities and may also differ on the best way to measure them, the majority of researchers (Bar-On, 2000) agree upon the need for developing applications for business and other settings.

Focusing on emotional intelligence in the workplace provides the greatest opportunity for application of the characteristics for several reasons.  First, the emotional intelligence competencies identified by most researchers are vital for job performance, collaboration, diminished conflict and job satisfaction.   Second, once the data has been collected and analyzed, programs can be developed that are targeted towards the greatest needs of both individuals and organizations.  It has been demonstrated that both the emotional intelligence of the individual and the organization can be increased through coaching processes. Third, organizations have voiced a concern that the very competencies included in the grouping of emotional intelligence are missing from the workforce today.  This is a trend that has occurred over the past several decades and could be reversed with strategic interventions.

Goleman (1998), in “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, cited a study performed by The Society for Human Resource Management that found a strong connection between emotional intelligence competencies and successful corporations.  Over a fifteen-year period, data was analyzed from over 600 companies that were chosen for profitability, volume, cycle times and other similar indices of performance.  The commonalities included:

  • A balance between the human and financial side of the company
  • Organizational commitment to basic strategy
  • Initiative to stimulate improvements in performance
  • Open communication and trust-building with all stakeholders
  • Building relationships inside and out that offer competitive advantage
  • Collaboration, support and sharing resources
  • Innovation, risk taking and learning together
  • A passion for competition and continual improvement

All the above commonalities can be found in emotional intelligence competencies.  The fact that the correlation can be found within such a large sample suggest that an organizational need for employees with high emotional intelligence exits.

Goleman (1998) believes that the extent to which an organization’s intellectual capital is realized depends heavily on the emotional intelligence of the organization.  He contends that a company’s ability to outperform their competitors depends on the relationships of the people within the organization.  Employees lacking motivation, initiative, or connection can impact the entire organization. While the discussion of emotional intelligence has focused on individual skills and competencies, when these competencies are applied to a larger model of leadership they have a striking impact on an organization.

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence emerges through and within relationships and at the same time affects the quality of relationships.  A fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feelings in those they lead by creating connections.  Goleman, et.al. (2002) in their book “Primal Leadership” consider leaders to be emotional guides who can either build resonance with their constituents or emotionally “hijack” the relationships in which they are engaged.  Hence, resonant leaders must be able to coach, persuade, listen, guide, and inspire their followers as they accomplish their goals.  Yet without an awareness of the basic understanding of emotional intelligence competencies, leaders function in a habitual pattern of behavior that may impede their ability to lead successfully.

Several authors, including Bennis, (1994) Gardner, (1995) and Kotter (1995) believe that leadership skills can be developed and have emphasized self-awareness as critical to the development of leadership skills.  Self-awareness is Goleman’s (1998) first emotional intelligence competency.  Increasing competency in the self-awareness area for a leader results in a propensity for self-reflection, an ability to honestly appraise one’s strengths and limitations and an understanding of one’s values, dreams, and goals. Diligence in increasing self-awareness can result in the emergence of a highly self-aware leader who can build resonance with followers.     In addition to becoming self-aware, it is imperative that effective leaders manage their emotions, Goleman’s (1998) second emotional intelligence competency.  Gardner’s (1995) stories are full of examples of leaders who could calm their own rocky emotions and maintain confidence, optimism, and courage despite overwhelming struggles.  Because emotions are contagious, it is vital that good leaders can manage their own emotions so that their followers are not swept away by negative feelings which limit the cognitive functioning of the followers and the leader.  Another facet of self-management is what the authors Goleman, et.al. (2002) call transparency, the ability to act authentically, live one’s values, and essentially “walking the talk”.  Gardner (1995) and Greenleaf (1997) are among the many authors who emphasized the importance of authenticity in leadership, which is a skill that has cross-over capacity between self-awareness and self-management.

Beyond self-awareness and self-management, is the capability to be socially aware, Goleman’s third competency.  A key skill in social awareness is the ability to harmonize one’s emotional state positively with that of those one is interacting with.  Leaders create resonance through expressing feelings with conviction and authenticity.  The ability to empathize with one’s constituents as well as understand different perspectives of the group are important skills in leading others.  It is also important to be able to read the key relationships and networks to understand the political forces at work within given situations.  The fourth and last competency area is relationship management; the ability to be persuasive, resolve conflict, collaborate, and catalyze change.   Kotter (1999) has identified similar capabilities necessary for leading change.  Rost (1993) includes an influence relationship as part of his operational definition of leadership.  The ability to coach, mentor, and develop others cannot be overlooked as a key skill in this competency area.  Expanding the connection between personal emotional intelligence competencies and leadership abilities is a second goal of the change project.

The literature is abundant with evidence that successful organizations have higher levels of emotional intelligence.  It also demonstrates that the most effective leaders are emotionally resonant with their followers.  It is through formally assessing emotional intelligence using validated instruments and then building programs matched to expand and strengthen competencies in emotional intelligence that an organization can create opportunities for leaders to become more resonant leaders.


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