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4 Tips to Increase your Emotional Intelligence Skills

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The concept of emotional intelligence has been around since the 1970s. However, the American Psychologist Daniel Goleman brought the idea to life for the everyday leader in the 1990s. As a result, today’s experienced leaders are conscious of the importance of understanding, recognizing, and managing their emotions. However, awareness does not always translate into action when controlling and managing a leader’s emotions. Hence why emotional intelligence (EQ) and self-awareness are kindred spirits. In a recent article, I ascertain that self-awareness is a critical attribute for a successful leader. This idea extends to the concept of emotional intelligence.

Mastering emotional intelligence skills

I’ve never had a problem controlling my emotions regarding reacting to stress or losing my temper. In essence, I have always been able to self-regulate. The majority of my previous leaders, including my current leader, have commented on my ability to remain level-headed in stressful situations. Many leaders feel this is the epitome of having a high EQ. However, this is only one aspect of EQ. Leaders must also be cable of mastering the areas of motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Infographic

The article “Emotional Intelligence in Leadership – Learning How to Be More Aware” from MindTools lays out the following five emotional intelligence elements and provides some great tips for conquering each.

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skills

In addition to the helpful tips provided by MindTools, I have a few expanded suggestions to help the aspiring leader increase his or her emotional intelligence skills.

Increase your emotional intelligence skill by knowing your triggers

Leaders must know themselves to tackle the elements of emotional intelligence, specifically triggers that may cause adverse responses within one aspect of EQ.

  • Do you like to work alone?
  • Are you a process-oriented leader that requires precise and defined lanes? 
  • Or are you more of a general guidelines type of person that wants the freedom to experiment?

These are the type of characteristics that leaders must know about themselves.

1. Emotional intelligence skills and understanding your triggers

In a previous job, my office tasked me with creating a set of diversity guidelines. After I received approval for the created policies, the leadership team briefed all the organization members. Following the briefing, one of my employees asked to speak with the leadership and expressed significant concerns. She felt the policies and guidelines would restrict her ability to be innovative and experiment with new ideas.

After the leadership explained the new policies, she realized that she initially overreacted. The employee confided that she was an out-of-the-box thinker and could be very defensive in response to policies that appeared to limit her strengths. As a leader with self-awareness, she understood that new policies or procedures were triggers that may cause her to lose motivation if perceived to restrict her ability to be an out-of-the-box thinker.

2. By understanding your environment, you will increase your emotional intelligence skills

Great organizations will promote a culture that ensures that the majority of their workforce is satisfied. Successful companies, such as Google and Facebook, allow employees to embrace their style to promote good morale and boost productivity. However, understand that even the best company will only go so far as to please its employees, especially those that do not adjust to the organization’s environment. We’ve all heard of the saying, “to whom much is given, much is required.” Leaders must understand the environment in which they work and make the appropriate adjustments, such as understanding the workplace’s culture and social context.

3. Now that you understand the environment, you must adjust or fail

During my early years in the military, I spent some time with combat units. I spent much of that time practicing combat drills in the field, and during that time, a standard way to correct young soldiers would be to have them do physical activity such as push-ups, sit-ups, or flutter kicks. This method of correcting soldiers became my go-to plan until I transferred to an office environment.

Failure to adjust to a new environment

In the office environment, I led a small team of joint military personnel integrated into one of the DoD agencies. The DoD agency employees outside of my team were primarily civilians. However, since I still led military personnel, I continued to use physical activity as a form of correction. There was an Airman who was consistently late. One day I decided to have the Airman do 50 push-ups near my cubicle as a method of correcting his behavior.

Discovering the error of your ways

That evening, my civilian supervisor pulled me into his office and explained that he would prefer that I not force the military members to do push-ups in the office. The next day, the Airmen was late again, so I had him follow me outside to the designated smoking area to do his 50 push-ups. When my civilian supervisor called me in his office the last time, he reassigned me due to my inability to adjust to the organization’s culture. I failed to adapt to the organization’s environment and, as a result, displayed a lack of emotional intelligence.

4. Perception is reality, so control how you are perceived to increase your emotional intelligence skills

When you combine self-awareness with the ability to understand and adjust to your environment, you will be in a better position to control how you are perceived. As a leader, how you are perceived affects your ability to direct, motivate, and influence.  

In the example above, I’m sure that my civilian supervisor and my subordinate saw me as an Army hard ass, and to a certain extent, they were right. However, what they didn’t see is that I used physical activity to avoid creating a written reprimand that could potentially affect the airmen’s promotion opportunities or take away from the phenomenal technical job he was doing. Due to my lack of EQ, I didn’t even consider how I would be perceived.

Learning from your mistakes and increasing your emotional intelligence skills

As a more experienced leader, I now know that a better approach would have been to lay out my standards and requirements after my first thirty days within the organization. The thirty days would have given me the ability to observe the environment. From there, I could have developed a set of guidelines for the military members within the organizational culture scope. Additionally, I could have shared my concerns for the Airmen with my civilian supervisor, specifically sharing my desire to find alternatives to written reprimands.


To increase emotional intelligence skills a leader must understand his or her triggers, understand and adjust to the environment, and control perception. Emotional intelligent leaders can use the knowledge of self and their environment to ensure they are not inadvertently perceived negatively but their subordinates and the leadership. As diverse leaders, we must strive to improve every aspect of leadership, and emotional intelligence coupled with self-awareness is key to this improvement.

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