Emotional Intelligence - The Hidden Key to Success

Emotional Intelligence (also known as EI or EQ) is one of the keys to success both personally and professionally, yet many people do not have deep insight on what it is and how it impacts performance.  Unlike IQ that measures cognitive intelligence, EQ is related to awareness and social complexities related to emotions and reactions and the ability to effectively manage them in oneself and with others to drive positive outcomes. 

Research on Emotional Intelligence was popularized by Daniel Goleman who found that EI proved to be twice as important as IQ, cognitive skills and technical skills combined. He further found that leaders with high emotional intelligence outperform their goals. Other research studies continue to find that people who are high performers have the emotional intelligence skills and score high on EQ tests.  

As a result of this continued research on emotional intelligence and the findings which correlate it to success, educational institutions and organizations are now paying more attention to making emotional intelligence a priority through educational programs, developmental tools, and practices that can help students, professionals and leaders master these valuable skills that contribute to their success.  

The Emotional Intelligence Framework

EI is not only a term but actually a framework that defines the 20 competencies that have to do with what you may know as the "softer skills", or "people skills". Typically when these softer skills are generally taught, they are not taugtht in the context of our emotions and are not categorized neatly as they are in the EI framework.

Before elaborating on the framework, it is important to first define what is meant by emotions. Emotions, as complex as they could be, are actually categorized into four basic primary emotions, anger, sadness, happiness and fear.  Each of these emotions of course can be felt at different intensities, and have very many words to express them.  

Emotional Intelligence begins with recognizing what emotion you feel in the moment, understanding why you feel it, then managing it in yourself. Once you gain that insight you can then recognize it in others and be more cognizant on how you communicate and manage your relationships with others as a result. The four domains that are included in the Emotional Intelligence framework are summarized below into Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management.


Self Awareness results from an ability to "know thyself" and understand who you really are — your strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. It is the ability to clarify your core values, the behaviors you want to exemplify, and the principles you want to live by. To acquire self-awareness requires assessing yourself and your capabilities so you can better understand your emotional composition, and self-control abilities in different situations, environments, and circumstances. In assessing yourself, begin by assessing these five areas:

  • Identify what your triggers are: Identify what triggers each of your four primary emotions. What makes you feel a level of anger, sadness, fear, happiness? For example, do any of the following situations trigger any of your emotions? If someone interrupts you, is late, doesn't get to the point, doesn't take responsibility, misses deadlines, overwhelms you with detail, doesn't come across honest, confronts you, etc..? Which emotions do those trigger and why? What about happy triggers? How about self-inflicted triggers related to either your own insecurities, your ego and how you define your self worth?
  • Identify your reactions: Recognize how you react to your triggers - and then identify which ones might relate to your own history or reminders of past situations or people in your life. Pay attention to your triggers not only for the negative behaviors, but also the positive one. Do you withdraw, attack, withold, undermine, patronize, push, pressure, joke, become sarcastic, interrupt, become impatient, overpromise, talk too fast, respond without thinking, etc.... When you have positive experiences, do you give credit, do you withhold positive feedback, patronize in a positive way, make people feel good, make some feel good but inadvertently make others feel bad through comparison, motivate, inspire, create energy, do nothing, etc...?
  • Identify others' reactions to your behavior: Identify how people react back to your reactions. Which reactions cause ineffective communications and unproductive interactions? Which ones are effective and productive? Are you inducing behaviors that are building the relationship or separating it? When do people genuinely appreciate their interactions with you and when do they just interact with you because they have to? What is your ratio of effective and inneffective interactions? Are you aware of cues where people can be reacting negatively to you even when you think you're reacting positively? Do you care?
  • Assess your openness to feedback: Can your read people's non-verbal feeback? Do you adjust your behavior with feedback? Do you go back and acknowledge feedback or reactions? Do you invite feedback? Are you open to receiving constructive feedback?  Are you aware of the impact that feedback has to building trust?
  • Determine your areas of improvement: Are you willing to acknowledge that you need to improve in some areas? Do you have a set of values you operate by? Do you know what values you want to operate by? Do you have a set of guiding principles to help guide you? Are you clear about the behaviors you exude and need to improve? Are you clear about your style and how people react to it?

Being in touch and understanding how you feel and think in the moment is very valuable. It has a significant effect on your behavior and on others around you. The more you are aware or it, the more you will know yourself.  With self-awareness comes a deep understanding of our thoughts and emotions. It enables us to recognize our reactions and how our feelings drive our behavior and decisions. People who have strong self-awareness will recognize, for example, what stresses them, how stress impacts them and how that reflects in their behavior. Once they are aware, they can manage their emotions accordingly and focus their energy on more productive thoughts, actions and decisions that align with their values.


Self-management allows you to control your reactions so you are not driven by impulsive behaviors and feelings.

With self-management, you become more flexible, more open, less judgmental of situations and less reactive to people's behaviors. You become more aware of what you need to do. The more you learn how to manage your emotions after you have identified them, the greater your ability will be to stop and then clearly articulate these emotions in a productive way when appropriate. This will shift your thinking to what is most important and will not let your emotions run away and control your behavior.

The more you understand the connection between your thoughts and feelings, the better you can manage both. Our thoughts drive our feelings and our feelings drive our behavior. Our behavior is inherent in the way we communicate and interact with people.

The true test of our self management capabilities is how we manage our emotions while we are experiencing internal turbulence that gets triggered with feelings such as, anger, hurt, fear, despair, stress and the like. When we have the ability to understand the meaning of emotions, and how they relate to expectations and needs, we can manage them effectively and change them. It allows us to also understand what environments we flourish in and which ones deplete us. This in turn gives us the choice on actions to take and decisions to make to create a healthier and more productive situation for ourselves and others. These are all traits one develops when learning the art of mastering self-control and self-management.

Social Awareness

Social awareness provides you with the empathy you need to recognize feelings and reactions in others. With a developed EI, you become better at perceiving emotions and can pick up on social cues. You can recognize group dynamics and move comfortably within group settings.

If you are socially aware, you can easily tell who around you is socially aware and who is not. People who talk over others, or who don't care what others think or feel, or who can't read when someone is not engaged or does not recognize when someone's emotions are getting triggered, are typically low on the social awareness scale.

Building social awareness begins with observing people in all situations and being attentive to both verbal and non-verbal cues. Non-verbal cues include tone, facial expressions, body language, posture, silence, and even vibes from emotions. As human beings we feel when there is positive energy or negative energy around us. We need to be attentive to that because that many times is far more important than words.

As a leader it will take you to new heights to learn to develop that social awareness and learn how to draw people out and engage them. One has to of course be careful not to assume they they know what the other person is feeling or thinking, but if you are in touch enough with those social cues, you will learn how to ask the right questions in a non-pressured, non-judgmental way to create healthy productive conversations. This begins to build trust and bonds with your team in an exponential way.

Relationship Management

Relationship management requires less effort once you are socially aware. It requires having effective communication skills, being open and curious, being honest, caring about others, not having double standards, expressing positive feedback, knowing how to give constructive feedback, and being willing to accept feedback.

Managing relationships effectively means knowing how to communicate at all times, understanding the subtle dynamics of ineffective communication, and how they come together with different personality styles. It requires watching how you communicate and how your communication is being perceived by the receiving party and adjusting accordingly. With strong relationship management skills, you can manage conflict successfully when it arises, have difficult conversations while still being respectful and making sure you value those with whom you are communicating, even if you are in disagreement.

As you build your relationship management skills, you will find it is one of the most valuable skills and assets to have both professionally and personally. As a leader, it will pay dividends to what you can do working with teams and leading at all levels of the organization.

As a professional and a scholar, it will help you develop your ability to succeed in a different way than you had defined success. If everyone considers themselves a leader regardless of position, they will find that position has nothing to do with what real leadership is. Leadership begins with learning how to lead yourself first so you can effectively manage relationships that will create the energy to achieving the common goals and what you want worthwhile and meaningful for everyone.

Modeling the Way

Leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence model the way for others to follow suit. Great leaders invoke inspiration and make people feel valued. Employees and team members watch how leaders act and react in different scenarios. They listen to how you communicate, how you treat others, and how you relate to problems. They watch how you deal with people when they make mistakes, how you deal with stress, confrontations, conflict, and difficult situations. This in turn builds or destroys their trust in your ability to lead.

Entrepreneurs and successful business leaders with high EI are humble, real, open, honest and controlled. They are not demanding or power-driven. Instead, they understand the power of listening and they ask for people's opinions rather than impose their own. Leaders who see the importance of holding themselves accountable to model the way, and who are optimistic and carry themselves respectfully in all different kinds of situations, are those that will earn the highest trust and loyalty from the people they are leading.

Emotionally Intelligent leaders do not recognize hierarchical positions. They lead up the hierarchy chain, or organizational structure the same way they lead down. They recognize everyone has a different role not a more superior or inferior role. So they treat, lead and communciate with everyone the same way.

Next Steps to Take to Increase Your EI

Sure your technical, educational and intellectual skills and accomplishments help you assume a leadership position, or help you start your own business; however, it’s the degree of emotional intelligence you bring to the table that ultimately decides your fate.

You may have an endless supply of great ideas. You may be known as one of the great thinkers in your field. But if you let your emotions control you, instead of learning to understand and control your feelings, there is a high probability that you will fall short of your goals and ultimately feel unfulfilled.

Take steps to increase your EI, and you will reap the results. You will earn the respect of your team, while motivating them to achieve greatness.

A few tips to improve your EI include:

Assess yourself and understand your emotional composition

  • Get a notebook and dedicate it to your EI self development
  • Create a page for each of the four emotions. For each emotion create a table with two columns: one column to list your triggers as you identify them and the other to list the corresponding behaviors you have to those triggers.
  • List how you see others react. Be in touch with how people react to you when you interact with them. Be honest with yourself. This is your journal. Evaluate people's reactions to you by categorizing your postive interactions into strengths and the not-so-positive into weakenesses.
  • Assess your openness to feedback. When are you open to feedback and when and why are you not open?
  • Create a page for improvements you want to make.

Care about yourself

Work out and get enough sleep! As part of self management, it is as important to exercise your body as it is to exercise your mind. It is equally important to give your body sufficient rest and unwind your mind through rest and relaxation. When your body is not well rested, nutritionally fed, or physically exercised, it can significantly impact your emotions, as well as weaken your entire system. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself credit for accomplishments even if you did not achieve what you wanted. Focus on what you did accomplish and dont' look at mistakes as negative, only lessons. Learn to take breaks. Breaks are stress relievers and a time to disconnect ffrom the madness to reflect, regroup and reenergize. Don't care so much about yourself that you end up not caring about others!

Care about others

  • Be inclusive with everyone that is part of the conversation and part of the team. Find common ground in your team. The more inclusive you are, the more open you are to growth and success.
  • Help others achieve their goals. Give your time and talents when asked. Be a leader not a boss. Be a leader not a follower. Provide direction and suggest ways to do things, be inspiring.
  • Engage and give people feedback. Take a few minutes and engage with people. When you can, provide feedback to others. Let them know they've done well. Feedback is very important although most people will never ask for it. Identify the strengths of others, not only the weaknesses, and let others know their significance and value.
  • Mind the needs of others. As a more caring and thoughtful leader and individual, when you genuinely care about people, you can learn to listen closely to them and understand more who they are, and what their needs are. When people feel heard, understood and respected, they will respect you back. That's when you can truly earn the rewards and respect from others.
  • Handle difficult situations and tough conversations with care. Everyone has different perspectives, emotional compositions, stress handling abilities and compounding issues both in and out of work that can be difficult to understand. However, when you treat people with dignity and respect regardless of the situation, you will always be able to get to the bottom line! Here are some guiding principles that can help.


rania-kortRania Kort is an Independent Management Consultant and Business Advisor with more than 20 years’ experience helping Fortune 100 companies successfully implement strategic initiatives. Rania has managed large-scale programs and programs, established and run PMO's and implemented process improvement in many different industries. She ran and grew an IT Management Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers for more than seven years managing over 300 consultants.  Currently, she serves as an independent consultant focusing on achieving results through collaboration and a team leadership approach that ensures alignment, accountability and trust to develop high-performance teams.

If you would like to contact me, I can be reached either through my contact page or through LinkedIn.