What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?


Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a set of emotional and social skills that influence how we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain relationships, manage changes and challenges, and use the information provided by emotions to make good decisions.

Over the past decade, the number of scientific researches in the field has increased and today scholars agree that emotional intelligence is a very important factor in leadership.  According to the American psychologist Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence even explains between 80% and 100% of a leader’s performance (Emotional Leadership, Daniel Goleman, 2012). The result is that the skills of Emotional Intelligence have gradually entered the language of business and today are part of the vocabulary of leadership and teamwork in the company.

In psychological terms, today  the main models of emotional intelligence adopted in the company are:

  • the model of Peter Salovey and John Mayer, who see emotional intelligence more as an innate ability than a competence
  • Reuven Bar-On’s model, which derives from his research on wellbeing and focuses on how emotional behaviours are managed so that people can be more effective and productive in their lives
  • Daniel Goleman’s model, which links Emotional Intelligence to the behavioural plan, to workplace performance and to organizational leadership.

Goleman’s model, in particular, was developed by studying the skills that distinguish top leaders from others. Its frame of reference includes 4 areas, corresponding to three or more skills that characterize the performance of successful leaders:

1.Self-awareness – the knowledge of one’s inner states, preferences, resources and intuitions:

  • Emotional self-awareness: recognizing one’s emotions and their effects
  • Accurate self-assessment: knowing your strengths and limitations
  • Self-confidence: a strong sense of self-worth and abilities.
  1. Self-management– the ability to manage one’s internal states, impulses and resources:
  • Self-control: the ability to monitor and manage destructive emotions and impulses
  • Adaptability: the flexibility to adapt to change and overcome obstacles
  • Drive for Success: the drive to improve or achieve an internal standard of excellence
  • Positive vision or Optimism: perseverance in pursuing goals despite obstacles and failures
  • Transparency or Reliability: maintain the integrity and act in a manner consistent with its values
  • Initiative: readiness to seize opportunities.
  1. Social awareness– the ability to manage relationships and an awareness of others’ emotions, needs and concerns:
  • Empathy: the ability to tune into others’ emotions and points of view, and be interested in them
  • Organizational Awareness: the ability to “read” the emotions of the organization and the dynamics of power and to build decision networks
  • Service orientation: the ability to recognize and respond to customer needs
  1. Social Skills/Relationship Management– the ability to build and maintain mutually satisfying relationships:
  • Engaging Leadership: the ability to inspire and lead individuals and groups towards a compelling vision
  • Influence: use of efficient persuasion tactics
  • Conflict management: ability to negotiate and resolve disagreements
  • Teamwork and collaboration: working together with others to achieve shared goals. Create group synergy in pursuing common goals.
  • Catalyst for Change: Effective in initiating new ideas and guiding people in a new direction
  • Develop Others: The propensity to develop others through feedback and facilitation.

The good news is that Emotional Intelligence skills can be developed not only through daily experience, but also through coaching focused on specific skills, specific training or through personal development paths.

This is particularly relevant for companies in very competitive scenarios. Research by David McClelland and his team, in fact, has shown that there is a profound link between the emotional intelligence of a leader, the organizational climate and business results: the organizational climate is responsible for one-third of organizational performance.

Research conducted by the consulting firm Hay-McBer based on a sample of 3,781 executives from around the world, correlated with an organizational climate survey aimed at the people who worked for them, found that perceptions about the working climate of employees were related between 50-70% to the Emotional Intelligence abilities of leaders. Other analyses on the same data have highlighted even more how the emotional intelligence skills of leaders translate into specific leadership styles and, as such, play a key role in influencing the organizational climate.

This prompted Goleman to define the repertoire of the six fundamental leadership styles:

  1. The visionary/authoritative style:
  • Develop motivation by making people passionate about a dream
  • It has a strong positive impact on the climate
  • It is suitable for changing situations that require a new vision or when clear direction is needed

The main Emotional Intelligence skills that characterize it are: self-confidence, empathy, catalyst for change.

  1. The leader-coach style:
  • Develop motivation by connecting a person’s desires to organizational goals
  • The impact on the climate is highly positive
  • It is appropriate in situations where you want to help people improve performance by developing and building their skills over the long term

The skills that characterize this are: helping others to grow, empathy, emotional self-awareness. 

  1. The affiliative style:
  • Develop motivation by connecting people to each other, building relationships and creating harmony
  • The impact on the climate is positive
  • It is suitable for situations where the team has to deal with an emotion that blocks the performance and needs to remain motivated in times of stress

The skills that characterize it are: empathy, building bonds, conflict management. 

  1. The democratic style:
  • Develop motivation by giving value to people’s inputs and gaining full participation in the vision
  • The impact on the climate is positive
  • It is suitable for situations where you need to have a full agreement or consent to proceed and receive input to make decisions

The skills that characterize it are: collaboration, team leadership, communication. 

  1. The pressing style:
  • Develop motivation as you achieve challenging and exciting goals
  • It is suitable for situations where you want to have high-quality results from a motivated and competent team
  • The impact on the climate can be very negative because it is often poorly executed

The skills that characterize it are: conscientiousness, drive for success, initiative. 

  1. The coercive/authoritarian style:
  • Develop motivation by breaking down fears and giving clear direction in emergency circumstances
  • It is appropriate during a crisis or to initiate a turnaround
  • The impact on the climate can be very negative as it is a style that can often be misused.

The skills that characterize it are: initiative, self-control, drive for success. 

Four of these styles (visionary/authoritative, coach, federator and democratic) create the kind of climate that enhances performance, while the other two (pressing and coercive/authoritarian), while useful in some very specific situations, should be used with caution.

Leaders who achieve the best climate and performance are able to master four or more styles and move skilfully and smoothly between styles depending on the situation. Nonetheless, further studies by Goleman and his collaborators have shown that very few leaders master all six styles.

Fortunately, it is possible to put in place counter-measures, such as building a team of collaborators capable of using the leadership styles that we do not master or expanding their repertoire, learning to use new leadership styles appropriately.

The second solution is of course preferable. In fact, even if it may seem difficult to master very different behaviours compared to those we are used to, it is possible to work to integrate a different leadership style by identifying the emotional intelligence skills that correspond to it and developing them in a conscious way.

The following questions can help you do a quick self-analysis to identify how to expand your repertoire of leadership styles:

  • Which leadership style works best for you when you are the follower? Because?
  • As a leader, which of these styles do you use the most? What are your beliefs about them?
  • Which styles do you use the least? What are your beliefs about these?
  • Thinking about the contexts and situations you have to face in this period, what other leadership styles could be useful to you besides the ones you use most often?
  • To do this, what emotional intelligence skills do you need to further develop?
  • What concrete actions could you take in the next 2-4 months to “train” these skills?

Alternatively, you can work directly with an accredited executive coach who can administer an emotional intelligence assessment tool (such as the EQ-i or EQ 360) and help you create a personalized action plan to develop your performance and your leadership style in the company.

@Copyright TPC Leadership (2021). Translated from an article by TPCL Italy.

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