5 Ways to Grow Your Emotional Intelligence and Become a Stronger Leader


Emotional intelligence is the most powerful tool in the leadership toolbox.

It is your radar and serves as an early detection system for regulating and identifying emotions. While scanning the emotional landscape, your emotional intelligence helps you notice, understand, and effectively manage your emotions. It also picks up on other people's emotions, so you can navigate their emotional landscape without letting it derail your performance.

Emotional intelligence is not a skill set that should be underestimated. Leaders with high emotional intelligence excel at communicating, building trust, managing stress, and dealing with conflict, which directly affects retention, productivity, and workplace culture. 

Developing your emotional intelligence will allow you to notice your emotional state and the emotional state of others so you can decide how to proceed. Keeping your skills finely tuned requires you to learn, practice, and use coping skills. 


Five ways to enhance your emotional intelligence and fine-tune your radar  

When your emotional intelligence is well-developed, it's easy to know when things are going well and when you or someone on your team could use a little support. Here are five simple ways you can improve your emotional intelligence:

1. Check in with yourself daily.

A daily check-in practice increases your self-awareness, which, in turn, increases your awareness of others. Notice how you feel and how you are affected by different people and situations. Also, notice how you affect them. Self-awareness follows a logical sequence:

  • Before you can respond to an emotion, you have to notice it. 
  • Only after you notice an emotion can you observe its effect on you. 
  • That observation helps you understand how you react to certain feelings so that you can employ one or more coping skills. 
  • As you bring more awareness to your emotions, it becomes easier to choose your reactions consciously. 
  • As your self-awareness expands, so too does your emotional intelligence.

Daily check-ins allow you to examine your emotions, motivations, and values. It helps you assess your reactions so you can recognize and build on your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses. Finally, it makes you an astute observer of other people's behavior, so you can support them when needed or intercede before a situation gets out of control.

2. Identify and name your emotions.

Your emotions include positive feelings like happiness, excitement, and pride, and negative feelings like anger, fear, and sadness. Identifying and naming your emotions helps you understand and move through them quickly so they don't derail your plans for the day. 

A physical reaction accompanies each emotion. For example, when you are tense, your breathing changes, your chest and neck muscles tighten, and you feel a knot in your stomach. Prolonged emotions like stress, worry, or anger can result in physical illness, including migraines and high blood pressure.

These physical symptoms remind you that your body is in tune with your emotions. Failing to employ your coping skills will, over time, exacerbate these physical symptoms. 

It isn't just your body that reacts to your emotions. Your behavior and thinking processes are also affected by emotions. For example, if you are experiencing anger, frustration, or impatience, and those feelings are not acknowledged and attended to, they can grow into automatic trigger responses. These exaggerated responses often show up as an intense, negative reaction to an individual or situation.

3. Decide how to proceed.

Once you've identified and named your emotions, you can determine what to do when those emotions arise. 

Often, you'll need to rely on your coping skills. Common coping skills include physical activity, such as going to the gym or for a walk around the block, breathing exercises, and engaging in positive self-talk.  

In some cases, you will acknowledge the emotion and decide not to take any action, which is fine, but keep in mind that throughout the day, other circumstances occur, and new emotions will begin to pile on top of the last one.

So long as your choice not to take action, is intentional and paired with an acknowledgment of the situation, it is a healthy step forward. 

4. Recognize when you are soldiering.

When you are overburdened and exhausted, it can feel like you have no choice but to put your head down and do your best to get through it. When you are in this place, unable to attend to your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs, you are in survival mode, doing what I refer to as soldiering. You focus on the task at hand and do what needs to be done regardless of your impaired functioning and the impact on your health and well-being. 

In short doses, soldiering is okay. Everyone does it from time to time. When life gets overwhelmingly busy, we soldier. We figure it out. However, long-term soldiering, particularly soldiering without awareness is dangerous. It damages your relationship with your team, friends, and family and often results in burnout, depression, and physical illness.

5. Use your coping skills.

As you practice your daily check-in exercise, your self-awareness will continue to grow, and you will start to figure out which coping skills work best for you. Use your coping skills to support yourself every day -- whether you are simply trying to relax and slow your system down at that moment, practicing your skills in preparation for a stressful situation, or trying to get through a difficult week. 

Your personal coping resources offer necessary relief when challenging or uncomfortable situations arise. The more you practice using them, the easier it will be to tap into those skills when you need them most. If you don't use your coping skills regularly, you will have a much more difficult time managing your emotions and responding appropriately to challenging and unexpected situations. 

No one is immune from the emotional or physical impact of uncertainty, stress, and daily frustrations. To get through the most challenging and stressful times, you and your team need to enhance your emotional intelligence and learn effective, easy-to-use coping strategies.

When you are equipped with everyday helpful coping skills, you can deal with unexpected, even traumatic events more confidently and agilely. In my masterclass, Life Strategies for Wellness, I teach five valuable coping skills that help you and your team deal with stress, get grounded, minimize overwhelm, manage emotions, and gain perspective. These skills improve your emotional intelligence and your ability to work together as a team, even in the most difficult circumstances. 

If your emotional intelligence hasn't been a priority, make a decision to take better care of yourself and your team. Increase your self-awareness and employ quick and helpful coping skills to support yourself when needed. You will elevate your emotional intelligence and become a more effective and resilient leader.


©Copyright 2022 Debra Roberts, LCSW All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced without permission from the publisher.

A version of this article was initially published on Inc.com as: The Single Thing Leaders Need to Embrace to Thrive in Uncertain Times