Can Emotional Intelligence Help Us Build Better Leaders?

Can Emotional Intelligence Help Us Build Better Leaders?

Author Scott Morrison, a student in the Doctor of Education program at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies, explores the topic of emotional intelligence.

As a former teacher and principal, and current district curriculum director, I have long been interested in the power of emotional intelligence; if there is one thing all people have in common, it’s emotion. It is a topic I’ve continued to explore as a doctoral student in the Doctor of Education’s Organizational Leadership Studies concentration at the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies.

A large part of effective leadership is the ability to interact with and influence people in a positive manner. Therefore, it would seem that a leadership model rooted in a social/emotional realm would be appropriate. Most people have had the experience of working in both a positive and negative environment, so know that leaders set a tone—and that tone becomes the culture of the environment.

Why emotional intelligence matters
This culture in turn helps determine the contentment and productivity of employees. This is why emotional intelligence matters so much: Successful leaders need to be self-aware and conscious of how to use their emotional presence and how it creates a specific context, climate and culture.

Those who study leadership are changing the way we look at emotional intelligence, yet it continues to be a polarizing theory in the scholarly world for a few reasons:

  • There are competing models of emotional intelligence
  • There are questions as to whether emotional intelligence is a stand-alone concept or whether it is part of a larger concept
  • The innate difficulty in trying to measure emotion

To elaborate on the issue of measuring emotion, a comparison can be made to air. When meteorologists scientifically measure air, they are actually measuring the air. They do not report on people’s reactions to the air. The weather report doesn’t indicate that a lot of people were sweating today, therefore the air must have been warm. With emotional intelligence theory, many studies are reported from the followers’ or subordinates’ perspective. Participants are asked, “How did you feel?” during a time of change or when the boss acted a certain way. Then the determination is made whether the boss is emotionally intelligent.

How to build a better leader
Perhaps it is time to take a step back rather than plunge forward. Rather than trying to determine if a leader is emotionally intelligent from followers’ perspective, we could study those leaders who are considered (or proven) to be emotionally intelligent to determine what led the person to have the right combination of abilities, traits or mixed model of emotional intelligence to create a positive and productive work environment.

This could, in turn, help us “build” a better leader, which would be a great improvement from our current approach of trying to provide training years after a leader takes on a high-level role in attempt to make that leader emotionally intelligent.

The theory of emotional intelligence is still being developed and debated—and likely will be for years to come—but there’s no doubt that the behavior of a leader has a deep impact on their workplaces and employees. By paying close attention to the behaviors of those who do it well and who we’re trying to emulate, might we not make work a better for experience for all?

About Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison is a student in the Doctor of Education program at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies.


  1. Thought-provoking post, Scott. My colleagues and I are also interested in emotional intelligence (or “soft skills,” or “character,” or whatever one wants to call it), but through the lens of how it can make students more successful in school. I’m happy you brought up this topic!

  2. Great read, Scott.

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