What makes 80% of leaders successful? How to develop your emotional intelligence?


In this article, Andrea Cardillo, Managing Partner TPC Leadership Italy, explains in an interview with TPCL Global team, the need to understand and develop your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to help manage our relationships in a digital age.

Question – by TPCL Global: Why talk about Emotional Intelligence today?

Answer – by Andrea Cardillo (AC): Said in the simplest way, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to solve problems involving emotions, ours or others.

I think many among our readers will immediately think of COVID. But this moment of crisis, however long, is destined to end. Instead, there are at least two phenomena that will profoundly change the way we work, and that make EQ more current than ever: SMART working and Artificial Intelligence.

We are all, in these days, witnessing the extraordinary spread of various forms of remote work, more or less SMART.

I believe you can already clearly see how this requires, from you and your teams, a greater ability to independently manage time and energy, to work towards objectives and to find effective solutions to collaborate with increasingly wider stakeholder networks.

If this is true for everyone, it is even more true for those of you who manage smart working people. Since it is impossible to control the progress of tasks step by step, virtual team leaders need to become more and more enablers of performance, skills and process innovation. This means: helping collaborators to develop a greater ability to solve problems and make decisions when a multiplicity of actors with different needs and requirements are involved. It also means learning to recognize the signs of stress or suffering from our employees without having all the non-verbal information or informal face to face work meetings; it means knowing how to grasp weak signals with less information available; and it means knowing how to help employees develop resilience, balancing the pressures deriving from changes, uncertainties and crises.

All of these are skills that require significant development of emotional intelligence. And, once again, if these skills were already part of the toolbox of the most effective leaders even before the massive introduction of smart working, today they have become absolutely essential.

And this is our present.

Q. If that is the present, what does the future hold?

AC: In the near future, we will see the consolidation of a second trend of which we are just beginning to glimpse the possibilities: the application of artificial intelligence to solve some of the management problems to which line managers now devote a lot of time and attention.

By freeing time from routine management activities, Artificial Intelligence will reinforce the transformation of the role of leaders as enablers, team coaches and facilitators – once again, functions that require major development of EQ skills.

Leaders who do not invest in their EQ today risk becoming obsolete soon.

Q. What elements make up EQ?

AC: Many link EQ to empathy and the ability to work well in a team; but EQ includes much more than that. From a technical point of view, in fact, EQ has been defined in different ways, largely dependent on the point of view from which it is studied and measured. The best-known definition in the organizational field is perhaps that of the science journalist Daniel Goleman, who built on the research of Peter Salovey and John Mayer. Find more here.

To be more specific, Emotional Intelligence is a set of skills that include our ability to understand our emotions and to regulate ourselves, our impulses and our motivation. But also our ability to understand the emotions of others and to make socially intelligent choices in scenarios where different emotions and needs are involved.

Inspiring, motivating, negotiating, building relationships, accompanying, persuading, giving and receiving feedback, but also staying motivated and self-regulating under pressure are all skills linked to key aspects of Emotional Intelligence. And these are all things that people like you and me, who manage teams or entire structures, exercise very well every day at work.

I believe that from experience each of us also knows that the people we collaborate with are variously inclined to some of these activities rather than others. The good news, however, is that although the individual temperament can influence some characteristics of our EQ, its skills can be greatly developed with practice. And fortunately the working context gives us many chances to do so.

In my experience as a manager and executive coach within very different cultures and industrial contexts, I have seen several times how three skills, related to emotional intelligence, are important to operate effectively in an organizational context: the first two are captured by various models of EQ, albeit with different names;

– Emotional self-awareness

– Perspective flexing

– Systemic Thinking

Q. Can you tell us more about them?

AC: Emotional Self-awareness is the ability to recognize how our emotions and needs influence our decisions and our reactions to the context. It requires the ability not to repress what we hear but, on the contrary, to ‘listen’ and accept our emotions without judgment, with curiosity, investigating how emotions can influence our thoughts and actions.

However at work we are so used to hiding or repressing emotions, needs and vulnerabilities that we often lack not only the presence to ourselves to recognize them, but even the vocabulary to do it in a competent and accurate way.

From this point of view, I find Paul Ekman’s idea of ​​publishing an Atlas of Emotions online, a real interactive vocabulary of emotions as a fundamental tool for self-exploration, intriguing.

Perspective Flexing is the ability to understand the point of view, motivations and needs of others.

Many of the leaders I work with as a coach believe they are good at ‘reading others’. But it is easy to overestimate oneself. Demonstrating Perspective Flexing requires the ability to suspend one’s judgment and adopt someone else’s perspective for a moment by postulating their ‘best intentions’.

Based on personal experiences and the specific position they have in a system, people build a certain ‘map’ of their reality and make the choices that seem best to them in that map.

Of course, their map is a simplification of the richness of the territory they describe – but so is our map!

For me, exercising perspective adjustment is more than being empathetic. It means knowing how to move between different maps to understand others, as much as possible, from ‘their’ point of view.

This does not necessarily mean abandoning our point of view but instead integrating into our map of reality the maps of others who are involved or affected by our actions.

Systems Thinking in the strict sense is not an EQ competence, but it is an aspect of social intelligence that derives from the constant exercise of the first two. It is the ability to understand how, in complex social systems, people and ‘things’ interact with each other. In other words, it is the ability to recognize how, for example in an organization, the interactions between personal beliefs and values, cultures and social relationships, and structures, processes and technologies determine patterns, behaviours, and dynamics which are more or less functional with respect to the objectives of the system.

I believe that, particularly for people who manage people, this is a core competence.

Q. Why do you say so? Can you provide an example?

AC: As an example, I recently worked as a Division Management Team Coach in a large multinational organization and worked with the following agents:

  • New Director: under a lot of pressure in the system, with a desire to bring important results in the first six months in the role whilst managing COVID
  • The team: Had negative past experiences with the previous director, resulting in low levels of trust in management and great doubts about the mandate and intentions of the new director
  • After about a year of working together, the new Director recognized that something was wrong with the climate and dynamics, and had the courage to take the first step: ask for help.


We first worked with her to help her understand how her emotions, fears, stress levels were affecting her actions and transferring to the team (Emotional self-awareness)

Then we invited her to share some of these with the team, showing vulnerability and asking for the contribution of others; this helped the team get to know her, see her point of view and her intentions, and relax by starting to trust more and talk more directly about issues. This helped the Director foster a deeper understanding of how things were impacting them and act accordingly (Perspective Flexing)

Finally, we helped them see how some of the internal dynamics did not depend directly on them but were deeply influenced by the turbulence of the system, by the processes and by the culture of the organization, in which it is ok to complain to the colleague but not to speak in a direct way with the leaders. In this way, the team was able to agree on how to have healthy boundaries to regulate external influences and how to manage the pressures of the stakeholders around them in a coordinated way (Systems Thinking).

Q. What can a leader do to exercise these three skills in the way he manages his team?

AC: Three methods you can practice that bring great benefits over time:

To develop Emotional Self-awareness, adopt a Reflective Practice as a logbook of your experiences and emotions at work.

When an event triggers your emotions or reactions, write down:

o What did I feel when it happened?

o What did I need?

o What were my fantasies or thoughts?

o What have I done?

o What has it led to?

Then think: what does all this tell me? What does it teach me about myself? If I find myself in a similar situation again, what can it help me to be more aware of?

There are people who, instead of writing, find it easier to reflect by talking to another person they trust (a mentor, a friend, etc.) That’s fine, the principle is the same.

It is about training to ‘stay’ with our emotions instead of judging them or repressing them or acting on impulse. Emotions are ‘data’ that tell us about our inner world and give us important information about our values, goals, needs. If we cannot grasp this information, how can we act consistently and make truly sustainable decisions?

To develop Perspective Flexing, enrich your Map of Reality by exploring different Perceptual Positions.

Before taking action or making a decision, practice looking at the situation from the perspective of others.

Park your assumptions about their predispositions or character, and hypothesize what their possible map of reality should look like based on their position in a certain situation:

  • What does each person see from their point of view? What do they fear or hope for? What emotions could they be feeling? What choices, consequently, could they see possible in their reality map?
  • Then, when possible, test your hypotheses in a conversation with the other person, with the simple purpose of investigating their point of view.
  • Only then, make a decision on how to handle the situation.

To develop Systems Thinking, do Landscaping, that is, always consider the three fundamental elements of the scenario in which you operate that can influence results and performance:

  • I: the emotions, motivations and values ​​of those involved
  • We: the culture of the team or organization, that is, the shared beliefs about what works or doesn’t work, what is ok or not ok in your context
  • It: organizational and decision-making processes, policies, technologies and other impersonal elements

Consider the extent to which each of these elements could facilitate or interfere with performance and what is under your control. Experiment with small changes that can maximize the positive influence and minimize the negative influence.

Generally, we have a tendency to favor reflection on only one of these elements, while considering their interaction frees up new possibilities for change.

Working in this way can be challenging at first. And, in addition to emotional intelligence, it requires courage, especially to take the first steps.

But it is an investment that gives a very safe return over time.

I have seen this approach work over and over, and step by step, transform individuals, teams and organizations in their ability to understand context more deeply and deliver results.

Q. How does the exercise of EQ change in a digital context? What should we pay more attention to?

AC: COVID will end, but digital technology will continue to define more and more deeply the relationships, culture and performance of organizations and teams.

Smart working, the automation of low added value activities, the possibility of networked communication between different teams and between the inside and outside of the organization, will radically change the way we create value through our work together.

There is an extraordinary opportunity for creating freer, more fluid, faster and more adaptive relationships; but there is also the risk of a growing atomization in relationships between people and a loss of collective sense in our being together.

In a context like this, I believe that the ability of organizations to develop Emotional Intelligence, to leverage Emotional Intelligence, and to have emotionally intelligent professionals and leaders in key roles will increasingly become a key factor for their success.

To use a metaphor made famous by Frederic Laloux, my hope is that in the next 20 years we can observe the development of organizations capable of looking at themselves less and less like a machine to be programmed and more and more as a living organism to be understood, nurtured and supported according to its internal logic; logics that are made not only of calculations and data, but also of emotions, values, and meanings at the service of shared purposes.

Creating, forming and renewing such organizations will only be possible if, in addition to thinking and acting, we get used to giving ourselves permission to feel emotions and talk about emotions, to give a more authentic meaning and a more shared direction to our experience together.

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@ by TPC Leadership (2021)

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