by Andrea Charman

EQ in leaders

Leadership is an intellectual concept. In practical terms, others experience your leadership in the moment and this is where your level of emotional intelligence/EQ is critical.

Effective leaders have high levels of EQ or emotional quotient. The term was coined by Reuven BarOn in the 1980s as a result of his clinical practice as a cancer specialist, although it only entered into business-speak after Daniel Goleman’s work hit the world via the front page of Time magazine. One of the most-used measures of EQ, however, remains BarOn’s measure.

BarOn’s approach focuses on two key anchors possessed by effective leaders:

  • An unfailingly positive attitude in all contexts
  • A very high level of personal self esteem.

If someone has low self esteem, they cannot sustain effective leadership. In other words, leadership is not a popularity contest, so leaders must have a solid, grounded sense of self worth – a realistic sense. In fact, it’s very much about being real.

And this means we are not talking here about overly self-confident people. In fact, the effective leader may be very modest, since modesty is critical to leadership capacity.



1. Moderation; freedom from excess; self-control; clemency...

2. Unpretentious character (of things)

To which we might add unpretentious character (of people).

EQ qualities

Here are the overall EQ – emotional quotient – qualities that are critical to excellence in relational skills:

  1. Self-awareness (I know myself and my mental models)
  2. Self-management (I manage my emotions and my ‘models’ effectively as a result of self-knowledge)
  3. Social awareness (as a result of 1 and 2, I am socially aware and can see things from the perspective of others when required; I am socially responsible and contribute effectively to the community agenda)
  4. Reality testing (I have the ability to assess the correspondence between subjective reality and what actually exists)
  5. Relationship management (I can build mutually satisfying relationships, establish reciprocity and manage difficult relationships with the minimum of debilitating conflict).

Reality in leaders

Leadership effectiveness is first and foremost about authentic presence. It is about self-esteem, consistency and showing the way. Effective leaders

  • Command respect, not fear
  • Foster collaboration, not competition
  • Set boundaries through consultation, not edict
  • Inspire and motivate, rather than coerce
  • Provide the space for others to develop and contribute, rather than control.

Most importantly of all, they set the vision and the values that will inform the parameters, doing so in agreement with other stakeholders. In this way, leaders enable others to buy into the journey.

All of this requires high levels of EQ. The core components of EQ in terms of leadership capacity are detailed below.

Intrapersonal skills

This involves how you speak to yourself. It’s a matter of your own self knowledge. As a leader, you need to be able to manage your natural characteristics appropriately in whatever context you find yourself. For example, you should know how independent or how aggressive you are instinctively. You should know your strengths and your challenges.

It’s also important to have a sense of self actualisation. This is a sense that you are achieving your potential, that you are getting results and that you feel self validated.

Interpersonal skills

How good are you at achieving a high level of empathy?

An effective leader has the ability to see things from others’ perspectives, while not necessarily agreeing with them. This also involves the exercise of social responsibility, working in a team with the understanding that others will have different views, agendas and so on, and accepting that this might be useful as a contribution to collective performance results (see also Diversity).

Also, do you have the capacity to influence and impact on others appropriately within the context? In other words, the way in which you influence your managing director will be different to the way in which you influence someone who reports to you, because the power relationship will be different. You need to understand how power is exercised within specific contexts (see also Political Intelligence, Coaching and Managing Upwards).

Effective leaders are also skilled at handling difficult people. People will always be messy, but effectiveness in dealing with difficult people is all about clarity of engagement. Excellent leaders are clear about the parameters of engagement, about agreeing expectations and about the behaviours and attitudes that are expected along the way. They deal with non-performers and difficult individuals in a timely and decisive manner rather than letting things slip into the dysfunctional.

Effective leaders reach a point when managing difficult people where the person eventually takes ownership of the problem. Through clever management and the exercise of advanced emotional intelligence, the effective leader shows them the way.

It is the combination of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills that leaders exhibit in a crisis that makes them effective. So when things get tough – for example, there are rapid shifts in the business environment – how does the effective leader deliver unpopular messages that they judge critical to moving the business ahead successfully?

They do so with vision, decisiveness and the ability to admit error when things go wrong.

The next areas that link in with power are centred around adaptability...



Emotional intelligence is a learned capacity. It’s nothing to so with inherited capabilities or personality, but your own authenticity will relate to your personality.

How flexible are you and how good are you at reality checking? This means being able to tune into the political context and agenda that will always be present. Within that adaptability and political sensitivity is what is referred to as environmental scanning. What this means is that effective leaders can scan the environment, pick up the realities of the political context and agenda, and flex appropriately without loosing their own authenticity. It’s important to note this last point, because we are not asking people to compromise personal values and authenticity.

Ability to manage stress

Leaders most often run into difficulties because they ‘lose it’ (because of childhood, upbringing and so on), and are unable to manage stress appropriately.

Key point

The main de-railer of leaders is loss of stress control.

Stress is critical to creativity. We tend to think of it as negative, but this misses the point: it is part of life, and has its positive side. There’s no doubt that great leaders feel stress, but they can channel it productively and manage it appropriately.

This is related to impulse control. For example, if someone is working for you and you don’t like them for some reason (some personal reason, that is, rather than because they are bad for your business or organisation), you don’t – if you are a good leader – let it interfere with your work relationship.

Management – not over control

You may think that, in terms of your leadership capacity, the higher your levels of stress control, the better. Not true: people with enhanced skills at stress control may lower their energy levels and deplete themselves of drive. At the same time, such people project the rather cold image of an over-controlled nature and are sometimes seen as less than human. Other people never get a sense of what they feel.

In particular, people new to leadership roles are sometimes afraid to show their feelings because they think it will be seen as a sign of weakness. Great leaders, on the other hand, are very good at ‘exteriorisation’, in the appropriate context. In other words, they know how to express their feelings: ‘This is what you’ve said. Is it OK if I say how I feel?’ or ‘I’m disappointed that that’s how you feel’ and so on.

This is known as ‘permissioning healthy dissent’. What you need to establish is an environment where people can disagree with you and, at the same time, know that you will say how you feel.


An unfailingly positive attitude is a key component of effective leadership. Linked to being positive is happiness. People will not follow a leader who is consistently unhappy (would you?). If you want to be an effective leader, you have to create an energy around you that people will want to be part of. In essence, that’s the basis of emotionally intelligent and effective leadership.

There is also a page on Leadership in the Emotional Intelligence topic.