What Makes Emotional Intelligence And How Do You Nurture It?

emotional intelligence EI or EQ
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Why EI or EQ is more important than IQ for leaders

I like to think that I have reasonable emotional intelligence, but I don’t always get it right. One memorable occasion, when I completely misjudged the emotional content of my communication, was when I found out I had been selected to be an explosive ordnance disposal officer. I was excited and immediately wanted to share my happy news. So, I rang my mother and blurted out “amazing news mum, I am going to learn to defuse bombs!” I was met with silence at the other end of the line. Only then did I stop to think about how that might sound to a parent; especially a parent who has had to deal with an energetic, enthusiastic but somewhat accident-prone son! Now, being a parent myself, it makes me cringe to contemplate my lack of empathy.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI) and how does it differ from IQ?

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify, comprehend, manage, and handle emotions. This ability starts with recognising and managing one’s own emotions and then those of others. Emotional intelligence is also known as Emotional Quotient or EQ. The term has been around since the 1960s but was made popular in 1995 by Daniel Goleman and his best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence.

In academic terms, emotional intelligence can be defined as:

“A subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own emotions and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s own thinking and actions” 

Salovey and Mayer (1997)

EQ (or EI) differs from IQ. IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient and IQ is a score of a person’s problem-solving ability, measured through standardised psychometric tests. IQ assesses a person’s capacity for reasoning – which is useful – but what IQ does not assess is how a person interacts with others. That is where EQ becomes important.

What are the components or skills of emotional intelligence?

There are various models that explain the components of emotional intelligence. Here are 3 of the most popular models:

Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Model

Goleman’s model (also known as the Mixed Model) has five components:

  • Self-awareness 
  • Self-regulation 
  • Motivation
  • Empathy (the ability to 
  • Social skills

The Bar-On Model

The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence has five scales made up of:

  • Self-perception
  • Self-expression
  • Interpersonal
  • Decision-making
  • Stress management

The Ability Model

Peter Salovey and John Mayer created the Ability Model, which has evolved into a 4 Branch Model that includes:

  • Perceiving emotions
  • Reasoning with emotions
  • Understanding emotions
  • Managing emotions

While all these models differ in subtle ways, there is a commonality in emotional intelligence that reflects the initial definitions: that of identifying and managing the emotions of oneself and others.

Why is Emotional Intelligence important?

Emotional intelligence is important as it is foundational to all relationships. To relate to people we need to understand our emotions and relate to those of others. But, EQ is of particular importance for leaders. Leadership, at its most basic level, is influence. And therefore if you want to influence people you need to know how they tick. 

As seen in my earlier example I have learned – often the hard way – that clear communication is not necessarily effective communication. If you do not gauge the emotions of yourself or your audience, then you are unlikely to get the result you want or expect.

Emotional intelligence gives you the capability to perceive the emotional content of what people are communicating and what they need. That allows the manager or leader to interact effectively with an individual or team, gauging how they are feeling and what they need in terms of support, encouragement or help in order for them to develop and perform at high levels.

But EI or EQ is more important than just that. People with higher emotional intelligence – no matter what their leadership responsibilities are – have better mental health, more success at work and better relationships, according to Dr Travis Bradberry.

How do you test or measure your EQ?

You can get a simple measure of your own EQ or emotional questions by asking yourself some simple questions:

They are also various tests available, many of them free, that you can access to test your EQ score. One very quick and free test you can do is provided by MindTools. It is only 15 questions long so you can complete it and get the answers back in less than 5 minutes.

How do you improve your EQ?

As with many aspects of leadership, there is some discussion as to whether emotional intelligence is born or bred; in other words, whether it is innate or can be learned. As with so much in life my experience is – and studies back this up – that it is a bit of both. Some people seem naturally more emotionally aware, but we can all get better at reading our own emotions and those of others. 

As with everything in life you can improve EQ through practice, or rather, deliberate practice. Let’s use the Goleman model to explore the skill that you can develop to improve emotional intelligence:


Strengths and weaknesses

Self-knowledge, among other things, means knowing your strengths and weaknesses. If you need some help identifying your strengths and weaknesses then read Which Leadership Skills Do You Need to Develop Most?


We all need some time out to reflect. It is important to set aside time to do this – away from distractions and interruptions. My preferred way of doing this is going for a walk.


Another great aid to self-awareness and reflection is journaling. If you have not tried this before (or have struggled with it) have a look at Why journaling is important and how to start writing a journal


Breathing techniques

Slowing down and taking some deep breaths do wonders for self-regulation. One of my favourite breathing techniques is this:

  • Put out your hand and spread your fingers out. You can do this on a surface or with your hand on your body.
  • Then with a finger from your other hand, slowly trace a line up and down each finger
  • When your tracing finger goes up, you breathe in, and when it goes down you breathe out
  • Work your way from small finger to thumb then back again. Take a moment to feel how much calmer you now feel.
Positive affirmations

Positive affirmations are helpful statements about us and the world. They challenge negative thinking and wrong assumptions. Psychological research has proven something that various religions have known for millennia: that encouraging statements, said out loud or on a regular basis, can change our mindsets for the better. Here are ten good examples of positive affirmations:

  1. I can change for the better
  2. I can make a positive difference in the world
  3. I am loved
  4. I can forgive those that have hurt me
  5. I am thankful for…
  6. Today is a new day and a new start
  7. I am blessed
  8. I release anger and embrace love
  9. I see that every obstacle is just a challenge and an opportunity for growth
  10. I do not need to fear

One great way to self-regulate is to get other people to help. Being accountable to friends, family and colleagues is important. If you are really committed to a goal or a change you want to make then having a coach is a proven way to improve accountability. 



In understanding motivations, there is no better place to start than understanding your values. If you would like help with this read What Are Your Personal Values?

Goal setting

Setting goals and achieving them is great for building motivation and momentum. But, to give us the best chance of success we need to specify, state and shape the goals. You can use self-coaching questions to help set and achieve goals.  


Picturing what you want to achieve, in as much detail and emotional content as possible is a powerful way to set our brains on the course to success. In this way, visualisation can help turn a dream into reality.


Empathetic listening

Listening is a foundational skill. The more I learn the more I realise how fundamental listening – real listening – is to all communication. It takes practice to develop the focus and self-discipline to listen well but you can learn how.


Role-playing is a great way to practice being in someone else’s shoes and seeing things from another perspective. When I facilitate leadership courses, I often get people to practice work conversations from both sides – first playing the other person and then playing themselves – with a partner. It is amazing how transformative this can be. 

Body language 

We all have some unconscious awareness of body language but if we want to be more empathetic then we need to have this in the conscious too, so we can pick up on the outward indicators of what is going on emotionally. 

Social skills

Building rapport

Building rapport is the starting point of building a relationship. It is the entry point where we try to build trust, establish communications, and create a foundation for further engagement. Building rapport starts with being at ease with ourselves and then carrying that authenticity into our interactions. 

Dealing with conflict

We always need to be emotionally aware but no more so than during challenging conversations. Even when dealing with conflict or answering really difficult questions there are approaches that we can practice to help us, such as the sandwich technique, where we start and finish with positives, keeping the hard facts in the centre of the communication. 


We can all be better communicators but for leaders, it is essential that we can communicate effectively, often to large groups of people. Many people hate public speaking but it is possible to overcome their fear and even learn to love public speaking

We can all be better

So, no matter how emotionally intelligent we might be, there is always an area we can improve in. In the areas listed above which one would you most like to improve on? Reflect on where you need to improve (self-awareness). Set yourself a goal (motivation), get someone to hold you accountable (self-regulation) and then see how you improve at perceiving emotions (empathy) and having more positive interactions with others (social skills).

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