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How Leading With Emotional Intelligence Drives Engagement


When emotions run high, it’s tempting for leaders to want their teams to discard their feelings at the door and focus on the work at hand. But attempting to create a feelings-free workplace is never the solution. Leading with emotional intelligence will have a better short- and long-term payoff.

The problem is rarely that leaders are coldhearted. Rather, leaders feel the pressure themselves and are trying to control their own stress. They are often faced with the monumental task of pivoting the organization and their teams. They feel the weight on their shoulders to show a brave face and keep the cogs turning.

When there’s so much work to be done, it may seem counterproductive to focus on feelings. But ignoring the team’s emotions can lead to disengagement. Some employees may struggle to put in the bare minimum effort. And high-performing employees become a risk for burnout and departure. Not only do business results suffer, but the pressure can also take a deep physical and mental toll on employee health. That’s why leading with emotional intelligence is so important.

Leading With Emotional Intelligence

Author and international leadership consultant Adele Lynn offers this definition of emotional intelligence: It’s “the ability to manage yourself and your relationships with others so that you truly live your intentions.”


This definition supports our observations that leaders don’t intend to be compassionless. Often, they focus only on what needs to get done, while forgetting about others’ personal needs. This is where the disconnect begins. Without emotional engagement, it’s tough to drive sustained, high-quality team performance. As a result, leaders end up frustrated and confused about why they aren’t getting the results they intended.

We hear that sentiment from leaders a lot as they grapple with what it means to lead with emotional intelligence. Leaders often ask:

  • What does it mean to demonstrate empathy?
  • How do you get leaders to buy into empathy and not just the bottom line?
  • How can leaders create a consistent culture of caring?

Training people to lead with emotional intelligence may not be easy, but the results are worth the effort. Organizations that lead with empathy see higher employee engagement, productivity, and retention and lower rates of burnout. And all of these give your company a far better chance of reaching overall goals.

There are three steps to support your leaders on the path of leading with emotional intelligence.

The first is to acknowledge personal derailers. Remember the classic airline advice to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting other passengers? We recommend a similar approach to leadership. When leaders don’t have a handle on their own stress, they struggle to support others. As a result, their negative personal tendencies—what we call derailers—start to show up under stress. Derailers are the “dark side” of our personality, and we all have them. These include personality traits like becoming argumentative, controlling, or impulsive under stress. We can’t change our personalities, but we can learn to manage our reactions and responses under stress.

Want to know more? Learn the other steps to help your leaders grow their emotional intelligence on DDI’s blog.

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