7 Habits of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

April 21, 2014 — Leave A Comment


“What really matters for success, character, happiness and life long achievements is a definite set of emotional skills – your EQ — not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests.” ~ Daniel Goleman

Back when my generation (GenX) was just coming of age, many of the societal prophets of the day predicted that one of the key cultural changes we would champion (and even demand) would be the shift away from top-down, hierarchical models of leadership in favor of flatter, more egalitarian approaches to work and life, and even religion.

Boy, were they right. 🙂 Our generational battle cry could well be, “The king is dead! Long live the autonomous collective!”

(Get the reference?)

By the way, this is a surprisingly insightful conversation between two generations: Boomers and GenX…


We’ve made this shift over the past 50 years, and as we have, leaders (and leadership as a skill) has had to redefine itself. What made for a great leader in 1970 is not the same as it is today. One thing that’s become increasingly clear in this transformation is that emotional intelligence matters more than ever in leadership. In today’s leadership landscape, the best leaders have strong emotional intelligence skills. Those that don’t suffer, struggling to manage an ever-shifting emotional landscape they have trouble perceiving, much less engaging in any meaningful way.

“75% of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including inability to handle interpersonal problems; unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty or conflict; or inability to adapt to change or elicit trust.” ~ The Center for Creative Leadership

There are lots of skills that spring from high emotional intelligence, but in my work with faith leaders, I’ve repeatedly seen how these 7 in particular consistently set emotionally intelligent leaders apart. Here, then, are my 7 Best Habits of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders:

1. They always give priority to shared values over specific goals. Goals identify where we want to go. Values name who we want to be in the process of getting there. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand that who we become in the process of reaching a goal matters as much as the goal itself ~ and maybe even more. They won’t sacrifice their organization’s values in pursuit of a goal. But they will, if necessary, sacrifice a goal in pursuit of a value.

2. They value culture more than strategy. You’ve probably heard the common phrase of “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If the strategic goal is the new country we’re sailing toward, then the organizational culture is the ship that’s carrying us there. Emotionally intelligent leaders know that if the ship sinks, they’ll never reach the goal. So they tend to the ship first, and the trip second.

3. They really listen. Emotionally intelligent leaders ask for feedback, regularly and without defensiveness, fear or judgment. They listen with an ear for empathy as well as strategy, and are always striving not just to fix, but to understand.

4. They use their head, but lead from their heart. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand this basic truth of human nature: People may admire you for your intellect, but they follow you for your heart. Emotionally intelligent leaders lead from their heart. They are transparent and vulnerable with their people. They share their passion. They let their people see their heart. They rely on their heart as the compass of their leadership, then use their head to plot a course.

5. They don’t run from conflict. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand that conflict is essential to all growth and development. Therefore, they encourage healthy conflict in their culture as a key aspect of personal and organizational growth.

6. They believe in their people enough to let them fail. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand that creativity is impossible in an atmosphere where failure isn’t an option. They don’t punish earnest failure, but instead, celebrate acts of courageous creativity in service of the mission. They give their people enough room to try things, to experiment, to stretch, and to blow it, sometimes spectacularly. They understand that these short-term setbacks will be more than worth the long-term gains in creative results.

7. They are constantly developing themselves. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand that self-awareness, along with humility and courage, are the foundation of all great leadership, so they work hard to intentionally develop themselves in these areas, as well as many others. They are always learning, growing, and changing…becoming more than they were even a few months ago. They are interested in personal mastery in service of the mission they feel called to lead.

What do you think of my list? What other key habits of “emotionally intelligent leaders” would you suggest adding?

Michael Warden

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