Leadership is an Emotional Endeavor


“The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead, and that occurs when a leader creates resonance—a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, the primal job of leadership is emotional.” 1 So reads a key phrase in “Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.”

Emotions affect the behavior and actions of everyone in the workplace. Emotions affect cognition, perception and memory. They influence beliefs, decisions and performance. 2 None of us ever act solely through reason: thoughts can lead to feelings and feelings can affect thoughts and actions. 2

And emotions, good or bad, are contagious.

“Employees are not emotional islands. Rather, they continuously spread their own moods and receive and are influenced by other’s moods. When they work in groups, they literally can catch each other’s emotions like viruses, a phenomenon known as emotional contagion.” 2

A University of New Hampshire study took a look at how the emotions of leaders affect workers. 2 The researchers were astounded at how thoroughly a leader’s own mood could spread among group members and how negative moods spread more pervasively than positive ones. 2

The most interesting thing about emotional contagion is that it occurs unconsciously. 2 People don’t realize that their actions and decisions are being influenced by the emotions of another.

It’s critical that leaders receive training in order to become aware of their own emotions, beliefs and thought patterns so that they can manage them and send the right messages to employees. Leaders must also learn how to recognize emotions and triggers within others.

It isn’t IQ that makes a good leader, its emotional intelligence and social-emotive skills that have the most impact in business. Emotional intelligence and knowledge impact job performance more than any other ability or skill. 3

Competence in the realm of emotional intelligence is essential to a leader’s ability to build relationships, to contribute to the personal development of their workers and to inspire employees with vision. 3 Leaders themselves rate adaptability, empathy, optimism and self-awareness as some of the most important abilities in business today. 3

The Research

Research in emotional intelligence is fairly new but studies so far have found startling results.

•    The personalities of leaders directly affect employee performance and employee satisfaction. 3

•    The emotional intelligence of leaders accounts for 70 percent of an employee’s perception of their work environment. 3

•    A positive mood in a leader increases productivity and worker retention. 3

•    Team members share moods, positive or negative. 3

•    Employees that lack social skills and emotional intelligence perform more poorly. 4

•    The highest performing managers in companies have higher levels of emotional competence. 4

•    Poor social and emotional intelligence are strong predictors of career failure. 4

•    An employee’s relationship with company leaders is the most important contributor to employee engagement, empowerment and satisfaction. 4

•    80 percent of employee turnover is directly due to unsatisfactory relationships with bosses. 4

•    Poorly managed workers are 50 percent less productive and produce 44 percent less profit than well-managed workers. 4

•    Three quarters of the people that quit their jobs are actually quitting their bosses. 4
Executive coaching can help leaders of all levels within business to increase their emotional awareness and social skills to influence commitment, morale, perceptions of stress, retention and satisfaction. 4

Skills that leaders should develop include:

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

Self Awareness

Your ability to recognize and understand your beliefs and drives, your feelings and moods, and the effect they have on your actions, decisions and on others is the first step in developing social and emotional skills. 3 We often act on unconscious beliefs and we’re often unaware of how much our moods are a result of the thoughts running through our heads.

Self Regulation

Once you’ve learned to become aware of your emotions, you must learn to catch yourself, control and redirect your emotions to better outcomes. 3 You must learn to suspend your judgment and decisions so that you can truly act instead of react.


Successful leaders have passion beyond that for profit. They take obstacles in stride because of their greater vision. They can remain optimistic when setbacks occur.


A good leader learns to recognize and understand the emotions and needs of others. 3 They take the results of this knowledge into consideration when making decisions.

Social Skills

Learning how to read people, how to communicate effectively with all types of people and how to gain people’s respect and trust is crucial for effective leadership.


1)  Research Quarterly: Motivation in Today’s Workplace: The Link to Performance http://www.shrm.org/Research/Articles/Articles/Documents/10-0235%20Research%20Quarterly-Q2-FNL.pdf

2)   Intentional Workplace: Leadership and Emotional Contagion http://intentionalworkplace.com/2011/02/03/leadership-and-emotional-contagion/

3)  Leadership Performance: Emotional Intelligence – a leadership mentoring and coaching performance framework


4)  Envisia Learning: Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Employee Engagement: Creating a Psychologically Healthy Workplace http://abstracts.envisialearning.com/43-abstractFile.pdf