Do emotionally intelligent leaders have more engaged staff?

4 May 2020
7 minute
Emotional intelligence (EI) has become a big focus in the business world in recent years. It plays a key role in how leaders interact with their staff and what levels of engagement those staff operate with. The leadership-employee relationship can differ drastically depending on the emotional intelligence of leaders, with reports that those with higher EI have a more positive impact on their staff.


With staff engagement being a critical driver of business success, it’s imperative that companies look to employ strategies that nurture engagement levels. Higher levels of staff engagement are linked to lower employee turnover (40% lower), higher productivity (18% higher) and twice the annual net profit [Engage for Success]. With leaders the driver behind much of the businesses engagement, we explore what traits are exhibited by those with higher levels of emotional intelligence and how that impacts a business via staff engagement.

emotionally resilient leaders body image

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is related to how we regulate, use, manage and understand our emotions and the emotions of those around us. It is used in almost every facet of our lives, particularly in relation to communication, overcoming challenges and empathising with others. The term emotional intelligence was first coined in the 1990s by John Mayer and Peter Salovey and later popularised by Daniel Goleman. [

Four markers of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is generally recognised by four markers defined as:

  • Self-awareness - the ability to recognise your own emotions and the way in which they affect your thoughts and behaviour. 
  • Self-management - how you manage your emotions, adapt to changing circumstances and understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Social awareness - how you empathise, from understanding and recognising other people’s emotions, pick up on social cues and understand group dynamics.
  • Relationship management - how do you handle and maintain relationships, including communication, work in a team and manage conflict.

Why is emotional intelligence important in leadership?

Emotional intelligence has been shown to result in increased engagement among staff, which has a host of positive outcomes as a result. Some of the key benefits that are attributed to emotionally intelligent leaders are:

  • Enhance their interactions with their employees
  • Build trust and minimise conflict Identify the needs and talents of their people
  • Delegate challenging work that plays to an individual’s strengths
  • Inspire their people to grow and develop in their role

When taken into consideration, what becomes apparent is that organisations need emotionally intelligent leaders who can recognise the impact that they have on their employees and use this in a positive way to boost levels of engagement which in turn will lead to improved organisational outcomes.

What does Emotional Intelligence in leaders look like?

Technical or professional skills in the past have been highly favourable for leaders, however, more recently businesses have recognised the value of leadership under those with high emotional intelligence too. Tapping into their interpersonal skills, they are able to work collaboratively with people of different backgrounds, skill sets and are compassionate leaders. These qualities support more invested relationships between leaders and their staff, with increased engagement resulting in lower staff turnover, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity within the organisation.

Leaders that possess higher levels of emotional intelligence can impact significantly on a businesses success, just as those without can hinder its achievements. This can be related to a number of factors linked to emotional intelligence such as more effective communication between leaders and their staff, healthier relationships which leave more positive impacts on staff wellbeing and empathy which enable emotionally intelligent leaders to understand the position of others and consider how certain actions will make staff feel. All of these factors have an impact on staff engagement and ultimately more engaged staff lead to a more productive workforce and better results.

There is also a relationship between certain broader personality traits which are associated with successful leadership (and leadership potential) and the facets of emotional intelligence. Optimism has been associated with an increased sense of challenge and growth of work amongst employees is also associated with higher levels of adjustment – the capacity to remain calm under pressure and emotionally stable.

Additionally, emotion perception, which relates to a greater sense of voice and togetherness, is also related to higher levels of curiosity – openness to new ideas, methods and approaches. This reinforces the importance of recognising that specific personality characteristics are related to successful leadership outcomes including employee engagement.

How can leaders use emotional intelligence?

The qualities of a leader with high emotional intelligence utilise the skills related to self-awareness and regulation, empathy and social awareness to develop relationships with their staff that results in higher engagement. Those with higher emotional intelligence often remain calm in situations where others may lose their cool, shut other people out or fail to recognise a situation from someone else’s position. A steady resolve can often stabilise and put the minds of staff at ease when they may otherwise become anxious or ill-tempered. This can garner a more positive atmosphere not only for those directly involved in a situation but also those surrounding it.

When leaders are able to regulate their emotional responses (emotion regulation) employees report greater clarity around their objectives and purpose at work. This implies that leaders who are able to remain calm and composed, are likely to communicate more clearly when delegating goals and tasks, and trust their staff with more autonomy.

EI leaders who see the positive, even in negative situations and who view the future positively (higher optimism) have staff with a higher sense of growth, challenge and enjoyment in their work. If leaders are more adept at seeing opportunities in most situations, including during times of stress, this may allow them to better understand how their team can best contribute to successful outcomes based on identifying their individual strengths and then allocate appropriately challenging work and development opportunities.

Leaders who can better understand and manage their emotions and those of others have more engaged staff. High levels of engagement among staff result in a number of key benefits for a business including:

  • Higher motivation among staff
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Reduced staff turnover
  • Higher customer satisfaction
  • Increased productivity

So, is there a direct correlation between emotional intelligence and leadership leading to more engaged staff?

A research study, conducted by Dr. Mark Slaski, looked at the emotional intelligence of 10 General Managers from a successful golf and leisure company and the workplace engagement of 534 of their staff to explore this relationship. An important point to note is that each of these General Managers were responsible for autonomous business units, and as such, they oversee a number of other managers, departments and staff. In this way, the behaviours associated with emotional intelligence (EI) of the General Managers set the tone and define the culture for the whole business unit. So the impact of their EI extends beyond their relationship with their immediate employees, but permeates throughout the unit as a whole.

Results showed that leaders with higher emotion perception (the capacity to perceive and understand their own and others’ emotions) lead teams with a greater sense of voice and togetherness at work. This suggests that if leaders are able to recognise subtle emotional reactions and adjust their style accordingly in order to motivate their team, they are able to facilitate a greater sense of trust and cooperation, resulting in employees being more likely to express their ideas and opinions and feel appreciated.

Summary

Leaders are effective when they are respected and valued. This is derived from perception among staff and heavily plays into the level of engagement within a business. Numerous studies have attributed higher levels of emotional intelligence to increased staff engagement, in turn creating more successful businesses.

Whether emotional intelligence plays into how a leader responds and adapts to changing circumstances, how they build and maintain relationships between staff or how they motivate their teams, it’s become a key factor in leadership qualities. While emotional intelligence is something some people possess naturally, the good news is you can also hone your skills to improve your emotional intelligence.

Find out more about our emotional intelligence assessment (TEIQue), employee engagement tool (Engage) and our measure of leadership potential (HPTI).

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