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Become a Better Leader: 5 Steps for Improving Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, understand and manage your own emotions, and in doing so, understand and positively influence the emotions of others. Some management and leadership experts consider EQ to be just as important as IQ when it comes to professional success.

Small-business owners with a strong EQ typically possess the following five qualities: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and people skills. Here are some strategies for strengthening your emotional intelligence as a leader.

Animated illustration of two brains exchange wave signal with each other.


Self-awareness is the ability to acknowledge how our moods and emotions impact our behaviors, actions and decisions. As a manager, there are many opportunities to cultivate greater self-awareness.

Pause to notice how you feel throughout the day, and identify the emotions — such as disappointment or frustration — that may be driving your behavior. Keep in mind that while you may have internally identified these emotions, your employees may feel the effects of them. Also take the time to honestly reflect on and evaluate your behavior. For example, do you immediately talk about the negative aspects of a project or employee's performance, before mentioning positives? Do you listen to and internalize feedback from consumers and staff members, or do you become defensive about your actions?


Self-regulation is the ability to control or redirect impulsive actions and emotions, helping you rise above small disagreements and frustrations. A good way to start improving self-regulation is to accept that uncertainty and disappointment at work are inevitable and sometimes outside your control. Instead, focus on what you can control — your response.

Before responding to an emotionally charged or difficult situation, pause to take a few deep breaths, which will help relax your muscles and slow your pulse. Also try to have positive stress-management habits outside of the office. Exercise, meditate or do an activity you enjoy — and encourage your employees to do the same. Leading by example in self-regulation can lead to a more productive and mature work environment.


Motivation in the EQ-sense is the ability to translate your passion and enthusiasm for your work beyond your salary or company status. Create a list of areas or qualities of your job that excite and challenge you. Then think about opportunities to incorporate these aspects into other areas of your role. As a leader, your genuine self-motivation can inspire others to embrace the same energy. Also, be sure you speak each staff member's work language to identify what helps motivate them.


Empathy is the ability to recognize and respond to emotions in others. This is arguably one of the hardest and most important aspects of possessing a strong EQ. Improving empathy takes practice. First, focus on being an active listener. Instead of already formulating a response in your head, truly listen to what the other person is saying. Try to identify and understand their tone, word choice and body language.

When they're finished speaking, validate their viewpoint. You don't have to agree with them, but you do need to acknowledge what they're saying and let them know you hear their concerns. Before responding consider your goal for the outcome of the conversation. In the end, many leaders are aiming to find a mutually beneficially solution without breaking down relationships.

People skills

Possessing strong people skills means you have the ability to strengthen relationships, build networks and drive change. As a leader, strive to have a reputation as someone who proactively resolves conflicts and provides solutions. Keep lines of communication open with employees by asking for and giving constructive feedback, being transparent when you can and by creating an environment of mutual respect.

By becoming a leader who harnesses these five qualities of emotional intelligence, you can potentially improve your employee relationships and business' culture.

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