EBOOK Leading with Emotional Intelligence - practical steps you can take to increase your emotional intelligence

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Great leaders, whether in education or business achieve better results when they use both their skills and experience alongside emotional intelligence (EI) competencies.


In the changing reality of 21st century learning it is no longer enough to be proficient in strategic planning and curriculum. Great leaders in education are now being defined from the rest by their ability to engage with their staff and using their own emotional intelligence to become a more resonate leader.


Leaders now need to be able to reach beyond their own technical proficiency to engage with others and sustain excellent relationships with their staff, students, parents and the community. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence in the context of leadership is a relatively new concept, especially in education. 

During a keynote presentation, Daniel Goleman, an internationally recognised psychologist  stated that 'EI is more than two and half times more important than cognitive competency in determining life success. Therefore, principals have a powerful responsibility to develop a school atmosphere in which every teacher and student can achieve at high levels.' 

Research shows that there is a direct link between the emotionally intelligence of school leaders; and their capacity to create a positive employee culture. When teachers feel a sense of emotional understanding and connection to their leaders then they in turn are able to perform at their best and ensure students learning outcomes are achieved.  It’s really simple – when people feel good they work at their best.


A Hay Group study found in their research of 15 global companies that 85-90% of leadership success is attributed to emotional intelligence. Further they also found that organisations with superior leadership out perform their projected outcomes and goals by 20%.

Competencies that relate to emotional intelligence include self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management. In the context of the learning environment, it is a principals level of emotional intelligence therefore that will determine their capacity to create a positive school culture, effectively engage students in learning, and ensure parental and community engagement in the learning process. 


Emotional intelligence determines a leaders ability to monitor their own and others emotional state. The presence of strong or overwhelming emotions can cloud our mental perception and therefore impact upon the quality of decision making.  When our emotional state becomes uneasy or overwhelming, so do our thoughts and at times even our behavior.



How to build your emotional intelligence?

Research has shown that there are three intentional and consistent practices that leaders who care can utilise to both develop their emotional intelligence and also support themselves to sustain resonance over time.


At first these concepts may seem like they belong in a hippy commune rather than at the forefront of 21st century leadership however it is clear that they are essential ingredients to cultivate and maintain emotional intelligence as well as define a boundary between average leaders and successful leaders who really achieve greater success.


They are mindfulness, hope and compassion. Here is how they work. 



When you are self aware then you are also more able to monitor and therefore regulate your own emotions, be more present and authentic.


When driven by the pressures of our working day we can easily disconnect from our own feeling state. In this way we are living unconsciously.


A regular mindfulness practice can assist you to return your awareness intentionally to your own emotional state as well as the emotions of others. The more attuned you are to your own feelings then the easier it is to ask about, listen and notice the subtle cues of others. Successful leaders are alert to their own feelings and the emotional state of those around them.


A regular practice of mindfulness can be developed where you “check in” with your own emotional state to identify what you are feeling.

Simple steps you can take to practice mindfulness includes

1.     Identify the emotion. Am I angry, sad, frustrated, happy, excited? Usually just by being able to identify the emotion and focusing upon the feeling rather than the situation you can begin to feel some relief and ability to manage your feelings.

2.     Use self talk to remind your self that it is understandable to feel that way. Everyone has emotions. They are what make us human. To be able to experience happiness, and joy we need to be also able to feel sadness and anger. Do not judge yourself for feeling the way you do.  Instead replace it with acceptance.

3.     Remind yourself of the impermanence of emotions. From past experience you know that this moment will pass and you can and will feel more comfortable soon. Take a moment to use strategies to look after your feelings by grounding, taking a moment, and using your senses to bring some physical relief to the stress you may be feeling.


Once you have established your own mindfulness process you can then use this state of active awareness to consider some important leadership questions.

McKee et al (2006) suggest some key questions that mindfulness allows us to ask: Am I acting in concert with my values? Am I the leader I aspire to be? How am I doing managing the stress of my current situation? How are my key people feeling these days? Are we in sync with each other? These questions can only be effectively answered when you are engaged in a regular mindfulness practice.



The second element, hope, enables us to believe our vision of the future is attainable, and to move toward our goals while inspiring others to reach for their vocational goals as well.


Hope helps leaders to believe that the vision of the future is achievable. When a leader is able to actively hold hope they are inspiring others in the team to develop and more importantly believe in their own vocational goals as well. As a management coach; fostering hope with my clients is something I am most passionate about.


Feeling hopeful about the future has been shown to have physiological effects. Processionals who feel hopeful have a better blood pressure, calmer brain activity, a more active parasympathetic nervous system and feel more resourceful when a crisis arrives.


Monitoring your own and others connection to hope in the workplace again requires self awareness and empathic reflection with your staff. Thorough role modeling, self monitoring and providing support to staff all then help to foster a positive environment where goals can be achieved and staff will feel a higher level of competency and achievement.




Compassion is essentially empathy in action. Research has shown the presence of empathy within a school culture reduces bullying and ensures better mental health outcomes for children (and educational staff and leaders don’t we think?)


Emotionally intelligent leaders care about people. Caring invites curiosity into the lives of other people. What are they experiencing and how are they feeling about those experiences – are questions effective leaders ask.  Empathy leads to connection with others. When people feel a connection they then will feel a sense of belonging and safety. Compassion as the active form of empathy opens a pathway for an authentic relationship. When teachers feel connected, supported, safe with a sense of belonging then they will work more efficiently and achieve better educational outcomes for your school.


EI Mastery: Other steps you can take to continue to develop your EI. 

Goleman identified a competency framework that identified learnable skills that principals should master. With these skills, principals can prevent becoming hijacked emotionally and become an inspirational leader. As the principal develops his/her EI they will find that their ability to build collaborative teams, manse conflicts and influence different ways of thinking is also improved. 

Goleman suggests the following steps to develop your EI to a level that becomes a natural tool you can rely on as you lead your school in todays learning environment. 

'Start by identifying one area to improve, and practice in various situations, even at home, until it becomes a habit. The steps to mastery are:  

  1. Self Awareness: Know what we feel in the moment and use that to guide us.
  2. Self Management: Identify our strengths and growth areas as we impact others verbally and non-verbally.
  3. Social Awareness: Develop rapport and empathy skills.
  4. Social Skills: Reading and handling our emotions to serve as effective leaders.'




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PrincipalsKatrina Cavanough