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Leading with emotional intelligence

By Sue Langley | 23 January 2014


Emotions play a far greater role in determining business outcomes than many leaders realise. Economic and business theory assumes that there are rational answers to everything and that people are rational in the choices and decisions they make.

Neuroscience now demonstrates that facts are not nearly as influential as emotions. Emotions guide our thinking and behaviour—what we think, how we think, how we make decisions and how we act on them. Leaders who can manage those emotional connections and use emotions intelligently are able to engage the discretionary effort of their people to maximise performance.

Emotional Intelligence in Business

At the Langley Group we teach leaders the science of how emotions work in the brain and how to look beneath the surface when conflicts arise. We find that even leaders who start out skeptical about the benefit of learning “soft” skills like emotional intelligence get on board when they learn the “hard” science that can help them be more strategic and effective.

Some business examples include:

  • Pepsico recruited emotionally intelligent managers and increased productivity by 10%,reduced turnover by 87%, and gained 1000% return on investment.
  • Sheraton taught leaders EI skills and built a trust-based culture that increased market share by 24%, raised customer satisfaction, and significantly reduced turnover.
  • A manufacturing company trained supervisors to be more emotionally intelligent and cut lost-time accidents by 50%, reduced formal grievances, and exceeded productivity goals by $250,000.

So, what does this mean?

Being More Intelligent with Emotions

Many people assume emotional intelligence is something innate and can’t be learnt. Of course, some people may have more skills in this area than others – maybe through their early learning as a child, or examples they have been set along the way. Yet, EI is the intelligent use of emotions and like any skill it can be taught and it can be learnt.

It helps to understand that emotions are data. They are not good or bad, just information. Micro expressions on our face provide data about how we feel. As a leader if we can get better at perceiving these micro expressions, we have more data about how people around us feel which then gives us more choices. Choices about how to respond and when to respond. If you don’t see it, or you are inaccurate in your perception, you have less data and fewer choices.

Emotional Regulation

This is a key skill as a leader as well as an important skill in life in general. This is about being to manage our emotions in a range of situations. Many people aren’t aware of the skills they currently use, let alone other ones they may not have considered yet. Resilience is about having a range of tools at our disposal to deal with a range of emotions. These skills can be proactive or reactive; passive or active; productive or unproductive as well as sustainable or unsustainable.

Think about alcohol. It is an instant mood changer, so in theory a ‘good’ emotional management strategy, yet most of us understand it is passive, often unproductive and certainly not sustainable if used regularly.

Exercise can be a wonderful proactive strategy, it is active and often productive. It can be sustainable, as long as it is not the only strategy you have. One gentleman, thinking he was terribly virtuous said “I exercise every day”, then continued, “If I don’t get my hour of exercise in the morning, my whole day is shot.” If used alone it can be an unsustainable strategy.

Resilience is a skill that can be taught. Sometimes just through awareness, sometimes through practice. We rely on our leaders to be people we can trust and we value consistency; we like them to be able to stay focused even in tough times. This is resilience; this is what we need to project as a leader and what we need to learn. Our colleagues need it from us, as do the people in our personal lives.

For more about the science of emotional intelligence watch this short video presentation by Sue Langley. You can also explore our emotional intelligence solutions for organisations, attend a Leading with Emotional Intelligence course or become a certified EI practitioner. Check out our free white paper below.


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White paper: Emotional intelligence at work

We examine the science, practice and business impact of emotional intelligence in the workplace to help leaders and organisations succeed in today’s complex global business environment. Download Now

About the Author: Sue Langley

Sue Langley

Sue Langley is a speaker, master trainer, global business consultant, researcher and leading advisor on the practical workplace applications of neuroscience, emotional intelligence and positive psychology. She is CEO and founder of the Langley Group of companies and creator of the world's first government accredited Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

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