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Emotional Intelligence in Leadership


June 11, 2020 – TJ Marxer

For as long as I remember, I have had a passion to learn what it takes to become a fair, influential, and humble leader. Along this path I have reached mountains and valleys, but I have always continued to find something to improve upon. Constantly seeking improvement in my personal and professional life, I found myself frequently considering the implications of what I now understand to be Emotional Intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

It took me a while to understand and apply this myself, and although I would not say I have mastered many skills that are tied to high emotional intelligence, I feel my experiences have built up my EQ to equip me for leadership and high problem solving.

Emotional Intelligence can be characterized in a number of ways, but the basic idea is to have the ability to understand and manage your own emotions in order to effectively communicate, empathize, and overcome challenges and conflict. Emotional Intelligence has also been recognized as key to leadership by people highly skilled in empathizing with employees or followers and humbly communicating to peers. High emotional intelligence gives you a deeper understanding of yourself and how you interact positively with people and situations around you.

After EQ was popularized by Daniel Goleman, four different skills have emerged which have become an avenue to understand how to attain a higher EQ. These four skills include Internalization, Reflexive Transcription, Social Cognition, and Social Action. As Goldman remarked in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, “the most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.”

Let’s look into how high EQ is a must-have for effective leaders, and more importantly, needed to navigate everyday life.


One of the first steps toward higher EQ is to understand personal attitudes, emotions, reactions, and reflections of various scenarios and people. I recently learned more about how everyone w

orks in different ways, thinks in a different pattern, and experiences emotion differently. Going from a suburb of Minneapolis to the diverse city of Los Angeles for school, I knew my understanding of people would be challenged, but at the time I believed everyone thought like me. Knowing more now, I would tell high school me “You are sadly mistaken, my friend.” Everyone experiences life differently, based on past experience, former relationships, and DNA.

Due to this, there is no one way to better understand your emotions, but greater wisdom is created through internal reflection.

Asking yourself tough questions such as “Why am I feeling this way?” and “Why did I react/act this way?” can help you achieve higher internalization (or self-understanding). In order to improve your emotional intelligence you must recognize, appreciate, and validate what you feel. Pushing down emotions can prevent you from gaining a deeper understanding of your thoughts, behaviors, and actions.. When you take the time to reflect you are better able to understand how you react to situations, leading to better self-management in response to difficult situations.

Not only is internalization about how you react, it can also highlight your internal motivations. As you develop a stronger relationship with your thoughts and emotions, you start to understand the values and morals that drive you. Effective leaders are better able to gain trust because they authentically act from strong personal morals.

As the oldest of three children, I felt a sense of responsibility within my family. I felt especially protective and responsible for my two younger sisters. In an effort to be a better role model, I started thinking about my own internalization at a young age. I would ask myself, “How do I respond to this annoying or difficult behavior?” and “What will the outcome be if I act this way?”. By reflecting on those questions I was able to find a core set of values: family continuity and love. These realizations allowed me to step back and understand that a petty comment would be more harmful than complying whenever conflict came up with my sisters.

This skill is vital to the development of the other three skills, becoming a baseline of humility in self-management, social awareness, and social action.

Reflexive Transcription

In practicing Reflexive Transcription, I have come to understand this skill is the ability to take what you learn through internalization to increase your ability to empathize and act rationally. As I have been learning more about how this is applicable in my own life, I have found that this skill is how we apply what we feel to how we individually act. Deeper apprehension of our emotions allows us to know how and why we react in different scenarios, particularly in stressful situations.

Stress or trying times often solicit an automatic reaction. Reflexive Transcription is a way to use knowledge of how you experience emotions in order to control your reaction. This understanding helps you adjust your reaction into a controlled response. Instead of me getting upset and acting out irrationally, I calmly assess my emotions and think through how yelling back might amplify the scenario.

In order to control your reaction, you also need to focus on self-care. This is essential. If you are not taking care of yourself physically, you are not going to be as equipped to manage your emotions as well.

Controlling your emotions does not mean that you stop feeling them. Rather, it is the ability to recognize how some reactions to those emotions may be inappropriate. When I was beginning to learn how to take control of my emotions it was so frustrating, laced with anxiety. I am deeply emotional and feel the need to share what I am feeling through my actions, immensely. What I have now come to understand is being humble and dealing with the frustration may ultimately be the best way to handle the scenario. Taking a second to pause, relax, collect thoughts, or talk things out helps you appropriately respond to adversity. This also allows you to make space for less emotionally-charged interactions, ultimately leading to higher trust in your expected response.

Positively directing their responses help leaders make equitable and smart decisions in social situations.

Social Cognition

Now that I was able to understand and better manage my inner motivations and reactions, I was able move on to the social interaction side of emotional intelligence.

Imagine you walk into a room of people you do not know, what do you do first? Go introduce yourself to someone? Grab a coffee? Find a spot to sit?

Social Cognition is the step back from social scenarios where you resourcefully think about how your presence and personality fit into the room. When I was younger and my parents invited friends over, it would take me about 15-30 min to adjust to the room and understand just how I fit into the new social dynamic. Looking at how my parents interacted with the new guest, were they cordial, boastful, excited, or comfortable, and how did that apply to how I should act? With patience and careful attention you can use past actions, social awareness, and learned behaviors to form your judgment.

A way to improve your social cognition is to ask questions and be curious about where other people are coming from. What are the motivations driving others in the room? How do they experience emotion or deal with those emotions? Try to be attentive when a new factor is introduced into the environment. If someone new walks in, what are people doing? How does that change the dynamic in the room?

Social Action

Tying everything together is your social action, or how one chooses to interact and act. By utilizing knowledge gained from internalization and social cognition, social action ties you and your understanding of varying surroundings together.

Communication is one of the main avenues of social action. Social action has a lot to do with sharing your processed emotions through humility to enhance the time shared together.

One way this can be exhibited is by avoiding gossip, negative discussion topics, or surface-level comments. This creates value and moves the relationship to a deeper level of respect. Personally I have found that when the discussion is elevated past this rudimentary level of communication and interaction, true value is formed. This is not always easy, however. That is where honesty and humility come in.

In order to resolve conflict and properly address issues that arise, be honest with yourself and others, and approach the adversity humbly. Some may choose to avoid conflict due to discomfort, but unresolved conflict often results in even greater downfalls, like loss of trust. With the use of effective communication, highly emotionally intelligent people will be able to pursue positive creation of value around them.

Emotional Intelligence does not come easy. There will always be something new to improve upon, but the best way to move forward is by being honest with yourself and beginning to take charge of your emotions.