Resource Centre Life At Work I lack emotional intelligence; I miss out on promotions

I lack emotional intelligence; I miss out on promotions

Hi BrighterMonday, I have been trying to get a promotion to a management position but my efforts have not been paying off. I have even been shortlisted on 2 occasions and in both instances, the job was given to people I felt had lower qualifications than myself. I spoke to the HR recently and he […]

Hi BrighterMonday,

I have been trying to get a promotion to a management position but my efforts have not been paying off. I have even been shortlisted on 2 occasions and in both instances, the job was given to people I felt had lower qualifications than myself. I spoke to the HR recently and he let me know that as much as I have all the right technical qualifications, I did not have the required workplace emotional intelligence to lead a team. I have been trying to understand the connection between leadership and emotional intelligence (EQ) and I would like your help. I really want to get that promotion so kindly help me nail it.



Hi Johnny,

Thank you for your query. Unfortunately, many people in the workplace today are oblivious to the value of Emotional Intelligence in their career prospects. You talking to the HR in your office was a smart move since you now know what the problem is and you only need to know how to tackle the problem. This article provides a guide on emotional intelligence that we believe will help you nail that promotion! Read on.

Why emotional intelligence matters

Workplace emotional intelligence has been described as the ability to recognize your own emotions and those of others and respond appropriately. It enables you to relate well with others by enhancing your relationship with others. It also enables you to stay calm in stressful situations, be analytical and solve problems with a sober mind even in the midst of a storm. It is little wonder then, that EQ has replaced IQ in recent times when it comes to success factors in the workplace and that is probably why you are being skipped when it comes to promotions, despite your stellar performance.

Effective team leaders are those who have good listening and problem-solving skills, which come in handy especially when managing a team. As companies grow, they prefer to have people of high emotional intelligence in leadership as opposed to those with strong technical skills. This is because the former group has the ability to rally a team behind a project and hold the team together even in the face of a proverbial corporate storm.

As a matter of fact, interviews are nowadays designed to not only discuss a candidate’s technical skills but to also find out how a person responds to different situations which essentially is the candidate’s emotional intelligence.

According to Justin Bariso, people with high emotional intelligence respond to social situations by asking themselves the following questions;

  1. Is it important to say this?
  2. Is it a must for me to say it?
  3. Should I be the one to say it and now?

These questions help you to understand the situation, know your emotions and know how your reaction will affect the person you are addressing.

So what are the tenets of emotional intelligence?

  • Do you have adequate self-awareness?

People who score high in emotional intelligence have a clear understanding of their emotions and as such, they keep them in check. They lead their emotions as opposed to letting their emotions lead them.

In a social setting (such as your workplace), self-awareness is the ability to study another person’s emotions and understand them in relation to your own emotions. This helps to create a harmonious working environment with little conflict and a good flow of ideas.

People with high emotional intelligence know their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and know how to balance them. Self-awareness is considered the most important emotional intelligence aspect as it sets the tone for interactions.

If you have a high EQ, you are able to honestly look at yourself and recognize what makes you act in certain ways and how to handle it. If you are not honest with yourself, you are likely to run into problems with others as you are not aware of what triggers what response from you.

Self-awareness thus sets the tone for how you will relate to others by first taking care of your own emotions. If you have a low self-awareness, you are likely to have insufficient interpersonal skills and limit your chances to grow as no one will want to relate with you. You are also very unlikely to make sound decisions, which is bad for your professional growth.

  • What is your motivation level?

A big advantage of having a high emotional intelligence at work is the ability to stay motivated even when things look bleak. Think of the CEOs of small companies. Most of them usually express such high optimism even when things are not so rosy. They will usually speak of how large their companies are, even if they are not considered large companies.

That is EQ. It is your ability to look at the current situation, set achievable goals and have a clear path that you will follow in order to actually achieve your goals. It is your ability to delay immediate gratification for the long-term good.

People who have a strong EQ have the ability to take challenges without fear and stay productive. They have the ability to also assess the challenge and see how well it fits in the greater good of the company. They also have the complete trust of their team members when it comes to taking on challenges and paving the way for the team.

Motivation is a very critical factor for those in leadership positions as they are responsible for the greater good of the team. They must be able to express optimism and keep their teams fired up when challenges arise. They must be able to hold teams together and keep everyone focussed on the goal at all times. No one wants to be led by a person who is negative and readily kills the morale of the team. No one will allow you to lead a team if you cannot keep everyone optimistic in times of trouble.

When you have a high EQ, you are able to motivate yourself and motivate everyone else around you. You must demonstrate to the team that you can handle every situation as leadership is not all rosy.

  • Good social skills are an asset

Those with good social skills are able to work well in a team, can communicate effectively, and are able to build and maintain healthy relationships. These are important skills for leadership and the workplace as you will always work with others and this will determine how effectively you carry out your duties.

Teamwork is one of the most important requirements for any job in the present world. No one is good at everything so you must work closely with those who bring on board other skills so that you can be successful. Everyone has something to bring to the table and that means that you will always be part of the team. The success of a team is made possible by the ability to coordinate team efforts and individual talents and this is why any leader must have the ability to work as part of a team.

Effective communication also sets a great leader apart as this is what will enable him/her to keep everyone motivated and make known team expectations. Good communication skills help you know what needs to be said, when it should be said and how it should be said. If, as a leader, your communication is terrible, you will not be able to hold a team together as there will be no proper flow of information on goals and expectations. Effective communication also requires one to handle body language effectively as it is a strong means of nonverbal communication.

Building relationships is a key component of social skills. Businesses exist to solve problems. They cannot be profitable if they do not generate revenue. A good leader should be able to build strategic relationships with team members, other people within the organization, stakeholders, and clients in order to help the business grow. As a team leader, you must, therefore, have the ability to connect with people with similar emotional drives and still manage those who are different in order to be successful.

  • Self-regulation will help you stay in control of your emotions

Workplace emotional intelligence is also driven by the ability to stay in control of your responses and emotions when dealing with other people. Self-regulation consists of trustworthiness, initiative, optimism, flexibility and achievement.

People who have a high EQ are able to comprehend their own emotions in a situation and stay in control. It is okay to be excited when the team hits a major milestone but no one wants a leader who easily gets angry and frustrated or one who is jealous when another person achieves a major milestone.

A person who cannot control his/her anger runs the risk of making careless mistakes which are driven by impulse and can be costly. A good leader is one who can be able to make calculated yet timely decisions and is not controlled by impulsive emotions.

That said, it is inevitable to become angry once in awhile and by all means, do not hide your emotions. However, a good leader finds an effective way of expressing anger in such a way that he/she does not break relationships. They are also good at holding themselves accountable and not passing on blame while taking up all the credit when things go well.

Self-regulation gives you a stable temperament and helps those you work with to interact well with you. It also makes you approachable and this is a strong and desirable trait for any leader as he/she must be available to offer guidance when needed. Self-regulation also means that you are driven by a set of values which you hold close and which guide your decision-making process. This means that when you are faced with a moral or ethical dilemma, you are able to navigate through with minimal pressure.

  • Are you empathetic?

A leader is a person in charge of human beings whose lives are dynamic and are affected by those things that have a direct impact on their lives, both in and outside work. A good leader should, therefore, have the ability to listen to their team members, understand their needs and wants and understand their viewpoints. He/she is able to give constructive feedback and offer a listening ear when needed.

Empathetic people are honest and are able to withhold judgment, whenever possible. The ability to be compassionate, be willing to listen and advise, help the team leader to gain respect from team members and foster loyalty as team members know that their concerns are valid. Employees want to feel human and as a leader, workplace emotional intelligence helps you humanize your team members and build a strong team which is able to achieve goals with little difficulty.

For example, if a member of your team is constantly coming in late and always seems tired, it is not enough to give him/her a reprimand. A leader who has a high emotional intelligence at work will skillfully try to find out what is affecting the team member and try to identify with his/her concerns. This makes the team member feel valued and encourages him/her to resolve the issues and go back to full productivity as soon as possible.

Traditionally, great leaders were thought to be aloof and they only worked with the head and not the heart. Empathy avoidance was the celebrated model of leadership. A good manager is one who is able to balance empathy and the ability to make hard-hitting decisions.

On the other hand, some managers have fallen victim to empathy distress where they get too emotionally attached to their subordinates’ feelings and start joining in their issues instead of helping them.

Finally, and what makes most leaders fail is practicing the politics of empathy where subordinates are expected to feel the pain of their managers but the managers can never feel their pain. It is fundamental for leaders to listen to and understand their subordinates and offer guidance as opposed to being aloof and cold.

As much as technical skills are important in your career, emotional intelligence is a requirement for those aspiring to get into leadership. You may have all the hard skills required to get the job but if you cannot build and maintain healthy relationships with your co-workers and other stakeholders, it will be very hard to get into and remain in leadership. A good leader is one who understands his/ her actions and emotions and how they affect those around them.

Our advice to you Johnny, is that you carefully study your EQ based on the above guide and see what you need to improve on so that the next promotion does not pass you by. You can also start by taking emotional intelligence tests.

All the best!

Njeri Karanja
Notification Bell