Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader, Part 3


Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader, Part 3

The world is changing at a very rapid pace. Societal demands, workplace and family demands are also evolving. With all these changes, we also must evolve and adapt to thrive!

With a focus on the workplace, adapting to changing employee expectations requires us to view everyday situations through a broader lens with more empathy and compassion to ensure effectiveness through building our influence as a leader.

By developing your own Emotional Intelligence, you will be able to foster more meaningful relationships in and out of work, increasing your scope of influence and accelerating your personal growth.

Let’s review the building blocks of emotional intelligence as outlined in the first article in this series:

1. Self-awareness is your ability to recognize how your feelings impact your behavior and your interactions with others.

2. Focus relates to how well you pay attention.

3. Emotional balance is your control over your impulses and emotional reactions.

4. Empathy is your capacity to tune into others and their feelings.

5. Positive outlook is the ability to see opportunities even amid challenges.

6. Adaptability is how you react to change.

In this final article of the series, we will examine the different factors within emotional intelligence: different kinds of empathy, positive outlook, adaptability and influence.

Why Is Understanding Empathy So Important?

According to psychologist and “Emotional Intelligence” author Daniel Goleman, “When someone has empathy for you, you feel they’re tuning in to you—you feel understood. Empathy is a basic building block for any healthy interaction.”

You might be thinking, “I thought empathy was putting yourself in the shoes of someone else.”

YES, that is true, but it is much more than that!

Let’s examine the different kinds of empathy as it will help you along your journey to becoming a more emotionally intelligent leader. As we did in the previous two articles in this series, let us set intentions.

Setting Intentions

I ask you to think about what your intentions are around empathy. Here are a few suggestions—use them if you like:

  • I would like to build stronger and more meaningful connections with my friends, family, colleagues, customers.
  • I would like to be better at understanding how others think and feel.
  • I would like to accelerate my career.
  • I would like to be better prepared for my new job or new project in a very different culture.

Kinds of Empathy

According to Goleman, there are three types of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy occurs when we understand the perspectives of others.
  • Emotional empathy occurs when we understand how others feel.
  • Empathic concern occurs when we care about others and take action to help them if needed.

In my Talent Acquisition and Talent Development practice, I mainly hear people speak of empathy based on the definition of emotional empathy. As stated above, empathy is a lot more than just understanding how others feel. It is important to understand which level of empathy you embrace depending on the situation. Self-awareness and being present to assess a situation and to be “in-tune” with others is critical.

Reflection Exercise:

Think of a scenario that is happening at your workplace right now.

  • What is the situation, and what levels of empathy are required?
  • Would it be one, two or all three?

Positive Outlook

We hear this question all the time: Do you see the cup as half-full or half-empty? Consider:

  • How do you communicate with your team?
  • Are your words inspirational, encouraging or filled with doubt and negativity?
  • Are you able to convey your positive outlook?

Over the years, many leaders I have interviewed take time to practice gratitude as a part of their life. Positivity typically follows those that practice gratitude in all areas of life.


In becoming an emotionally intelligent leader, one must think about being an adaptive leader.

Educational psychologists have defined adaptability as: “The capacity to adjust one’s thoughts and behaviors in order to effectively respond to uncertainty, new information or changed circumstances” (Martin, Nejad, Colmar & Liem, “Journal of Educational Psychology,” 2013).

Adaptability, a vital component of being an emotionally intelligent leader is defined as: “Measuring the abilities, characteristics and environmental factors which impact the successful behaviors and actions of people and organizations to effectively respond to uncertainty, new information or changed circumstances” (Ross Thornley, “Decoding AQ,” 2020).

Reflection Exercise:

Consider the following questions about your adaptability:

  • How did you adapt to the many changes that occurred over the last 18 months?
  • How did you support your teams to adapt?

Impact on Influence

You might be wondering what or how does emotional intelligence impact influence?

We often think that people with influence are the most charismatic, the loudest, the funniest or the most successful, but that is not the case!

Influence occurs when you are authentic as you invest in others. It is the ability to have a positive impact on others or to gain their buy-in.

Influence is the ability to have a positive impact on others and to persuade or convince them to gain their support. This trait helps build engagement with your cause, mission or idea.

Reflection Exercise:

Think of someone who has had a tremendous influence on your work life.

  • Why was that person so influential to you?
  • How will you develop your competency to influence in a positive manner?

Through the above reflection exercise, you will discover that the person of greatest influence to you most likely also had the most deposits in your “emotional bank account,” as Stephen Covey spoke about in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Bringing It All Together with Practical Applications!

As we wrap up this three-part series, I hope the topics covered were of value to you. We took a high-level view of some pillars along the EI journey: self-awareness, setting intentions, focus, emotional balance, empathy, positive outlook and adaptability.

The best way to bring it all together is with some practical applications and insights from emotionally intelligent leaders.

I had the privilege of asking two very self-aware leaders a few questions. Sharon Stines, AVP Customer Care, AIR MILES Rewards Program, and Al Di Mauro, Director, Operations, Benecaid Health Benefit Solutions, were both authentic in sharing their insights through a variety of questions. I trust these insights will show how we can bring it all together.

As Stines points out, “Even the smartest business leaders can’t run a business all by themselves. The smartest business leaders are the ones who find the best people and make excellent use of their talents.”

Q. What skills do you see as necessary to be an effective leader?

Benecaid’s Di Mauro stated that “vision is important because a leader has to be able to frame an emotionally compelling vision that aligns corporate and personal goals and which motivates people to take needed actions to see those goals realized.” He goes on to say that an effective leader needs to “be able to fly at various altitudes: A great leader can’t be effective if they ‘can’t get out of the weeds,’ or consistently fly at 50,000 feet. Great leaders approach new and existing situations from different perspectives consistently. This includes understanding their employees’ perspectives, attitudes and beliefs about the company.”

Di Mauro speaks about the importance of empathy, stating that “assisting others to achieve greatness requires a deep understanding of the individual. Beyond strengths and weaknesses, it requires an emotional understanding of what drives that person, how they interpret their situation and their connection with those they lead. This understanding is not just critical for employees, but can be just as pivotal when applied to working with peers, management, competitors, partners and regulators, etc.”

Q. What does Emotional Intelligence mean to you?

DiMauro explains that emotional intelligence “is a mirror. It is about understanding others and yourself, how your actions are being interpreted, what motivates your behavior, and how you manage your emotions and behaviors relative to the situation you are in and with respect to the individuals with whom you are interacting.

“It is tied to understanding other personalities, situations, objectives, motivations, constraints, needs/wants, and how your own behavior impacts them,” he adds.

“Lastly, knowledge without action is useless,” Di Mauro continues. “We must be adaptable and become the person who brings about the most positive change. This means being able to compromise or pivot from our initial point of view. It is about actively seeking an optimal win-win scenario, common ground and looking to minimize what others construe as a loss. It is about taking your emotional awareness of the situation and creating an optimal mindset in everyone to achieve collective goals.”

In working with many great leaders over the years, I found that the best leaders take time for self-reflection, looking inward with the lens of humility and a growth mindset.

In working with many great leaders over the years, I found that the best leaders take time for self-reflection, looking inward with the lens of humility and a growth mindset. Both Stine and Di Mauro shared highly effective practices.

Q. What self-reflection practices do you follow?

Stine shared some golden nuggets that everyone can put into practice:

“Live with gratitude: I have recently begun the practice of doing a five-minute daily journal. It helps me to reflect on what I am grateful for. It helps me to set goals, reflect on what I have learned, and begin and end my day with a positive outlook.

“Seek the Lesson: It’s always easy for me to blame myself and focus on what I have done wrong, so I try to flip it and ask myself daily, ‘What have I learned today?’ A great leader I was blessed to work with always used to ask me, ‘What did you learn?’ when I told her I had made a mistake. She helped me to understand it is not the mistake that defines me. It’s what I’ve learned and how I choose to move forward. I have always been grateful for that lesson, and it’s something I try to ask myself:

  • What did I learn?
  • What will I do differently the next time?

“As leaders, we need to consistently reflect to see how we can develop ourselves.”

Q. How can a leader grow or build their own EI?

Stines shares, “Learning to listen to understand, stepping outside of your own ego, and recognizing that, no matter what your intent, your team’s perception is your reality. Sometimes you need to step back, admit your mistake and start over. People will tell you what they need—you just need to be able to hear it. It may not be what you thought it would be, and that is OK.”

With this level of humble self-reflection and investment in self-awareness, leaders like Stines can build meaningful connections with those in their respective teams. The positive outlook required to be an emotionally intelligent leader goes hand in hand with the “daily practice of gratitude” that Stines mentioned.

Through listening from a place of understanding, the leader is able to experience all levels of empathy for their team members. This empathy allows leaders to be adaptable and lead with authenticity and intention.

Di Mauro adds that he does the following:

  • Actively solicits feedback.
  • Conducts post-mortems on situations with both positive and negative outcomes.
  • Leverages mentors to assist his understanding of situations.
  • Considers the type of leader he wants to be. Determines what behaviors that person would exhibit and to what degree. He then assesses his actions against what that ideal would be.

It is with hard work, humble heart, desire to learn and grow that each of us can increase our emotional intelligence.

With this overview and insights, the hope is you have more tools to help you on your journey to becoming a more emotionally intelligent leader. Through this journey, I am sure you will be helping others to become the best version of themselves.

As we complete this three-part series, I would like to end it just as I did in the first article—as if I was speaking with you live:

I wish you grace, kindness and compassion for yourself and others as you embark upon your personal leadership journey!