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How to develop emotional intelligence training for leaders and managers

Four key components to guide the creation of emotional intelligence training for leaders.
emotional intelligence training for leaders
Credit: Blake Cale; Spencer Selover / Pexels; Wellcome Images

Although the concept of EQ has been around for over 30 years, organizations have only recently begun to realize the importance of emotional intelligence training for leaders. 

In the wake of the Great Resignation, businesses are beginning to explore new ways to increase retention. And studies show that workers are more likely to stay with their employer when they feel cared for and understood by their supervisors. 

A recent State of Workplace Empathy report shows that 82% of employees said they would resign to work for a more empathetic employer. Supporting the development of emotional intelligence in the workplace is key to creating an empathetic culture, and it starts at the top.   

Developing emotional intelligence training for leaders

In this article, we’ll discuss four components that can guide the creation of emotional intelligence training for managers and leaders. They are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Developing the skills associated with each of these components can help leaders learn to:

  • Know their own emotional needs and how these needs influence their behavior
  • Manage their emotions to leverage those that are helpful and control those that aren’t
  • Recognize the emotional needs, strengths, and weaknesses of others
  • Apply knowledge of self and others to strengthen their relationships

For many individuals these abilities don’t come naturally, but they can be developed with the right resources and tools. Here’s how to get started. 


An in-depth assessment that identifies one’s emotional needs, strengths, and weaknesses is often the first step of emotional intelligence training for leaders. In the video below, Dr. Tony Coles, the CEO of a leading neuroscience company, explains the importance of having this sense of self-awareness. 

In addition to understanding strengths and weaknesses, self awareness involves monitoring one’s emotions and reactions in real-time. This is a deliberate practice that keeps leaders attuned to their behavior when interacting with others. 

To develop this skill, organizations can provide leaders with training on mindfulness – the act of being fully present and cognizant of one’s emotional, mental, and physical reality. Mindfulness allows leaders to notice their emotional triggers before acting on them, but it does take practice. 

Mindfulness allows leaders to notice their emotional triggers before acting on them. 

Leaders must learn how their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors affect others. One strategy that can be highly beneficial for leaders is taking “purposeful pauses” throughout their day. For example, letting the phone ring a few times before answering, and taking deep breaths to center themselves. Or holding off on immediately responding to an email, taking some time to reflect first.  

If a particular leader is struggling with self-awareness, coaching and mentoring can be very beneficial. Leaders can also be encouraged to regularly ask for candid feedback from others, enabling them to recognize their blind spots. 


Self-management is another critical component of emotional intelligence training for leaders. To develop this skill, EQ programs can include teachings on meditation and deep breathing. Both of these exercises can help leaders manage stress and remain grounded throughout the day. 

The goal is for leaders to build the self-control that enables them to react appropriately rather than instinctively. Susan David, psychologist and author of Emotional Agility, suggests a few practical ways to manage difficult emotions, all of which can be incorporated into emotional intelligence training for leaders. 

 Without these skills, leaders can easily become stuck in unhealthy patterns. 

David’s strategies include being present with a feeling or thought – not considering whether it’s right or wrong, but welcoming it in a compassionate and curious way. Additionally, she suggests creating space between oneself and an emotion by labeling it and recognizing that it doesn’t define how one should act.

Leaders who adopt these habits are able to rise to the occasion and weather crises of all kinds. Without these skills, leaders can easily become “stuck” in unhealthy patterns. Below, David describes two common, unproductive ways in which people attempt to manage their emotions. 

As explained in the video above, bottling and brooding hinder individuals from moving forward. But mastering effective self-management techniques can help leaders reach their full potential, both inside and outside of the workplace. 

Social awareness

Developing social awareness enables leaders to interact effectively and build strong relationships with people at any level of an organization. Empathy, the ability to tune into others’ needs and emotions, is an essential component of social awareness.  

In a Harvard Business Review article, world-renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman breaks down three different kinds of empathy: cognitive (knowing how another person thinks), emotional (knowing how the person feels), and empathetic concern (caring about the other person). Socially aware leaders possess a combination of these three types. 

In the video below, Goleman shares an example of empathetic concern and how an employee can go the extra mile to help their teammates. In the same way, leaders must learn to check in on those under their care and lend a helping hand when it’s needed. 

Social awareness is developed largely through observation — by being curious about what matters to others, actively listening to them, and being attentive to what they leave unsaid. Perspective, respect, and compassion all arise from being sensitive to the emotional needs of others in this way. 

To develop these skills, L&D can consider incorporating role plays of social interactions into emotional intelligence training for leaders. Exercises that involve properly identifying and interpreting body language and vocal tones can also be beneficial.

Relationship management 

Learning how to maintain positive working relationships is another key component of emotional intelligence training for leaders. It includes skills like collaboration, trust-building, communication, authenticity, and conflict resolution. 

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Conflict often arises from a lack of social awareness — not understanding the emotions that are causing friction in a given situation. But leaders who have been through EQ training are able to see issues from others’ perspectives and respect their opinion, even if they don’t always agree. 

Additionally, how leaders present constructive feedback can drastically affect their relationships with direct reports. Alisa Cohn, executive coach and author, says that the best way to give feedback is to first, focus on creating an environment of psychological safety. 

Psychological safety results from supporting and encouraging team members consistently over time. When direct reports believe their leader has their best interest in mind, constructive feedback can be a powerful motivator for behavioral change. 

Final thoughts

To see growth that lasts, each of the above components should be included in emotional intelligence training for leaders. Remember: change takes time. Learners may need to fundamentally shift long-held beliefs about what it means to be a leader. But the investment of time and resources pays dividends. Emotionally intelligent leaders have the ability to:

  • Create a positive, collaborative work culture 
  • Instigate growth, innovation, and creativity
  • Coach and motivate others to do their best
  • Support sound decision-making

All of these contribute to strong relationships between leaders and their direct reports. And studies have shown that how an employee gets along with their manager accounts for at least 70% of their overall employee engagement.

With the right programming, organizations can empower leaders with the emotional intelligence competencies they need to succeed — giving everyone on the team a leg up. 

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