Mark was a natural leader. For as long as he could remember, he had an uncanny ability to read others and respond accordingly. He took pride in his clear communication skills and endless supply of empathy. And he was especially adept at remaining calm under pressure – regardless of his emotional state, he knew how to present a poised and serene exterior to the world around him.

With a keen understanding of Mark’s strengths as a leader, his supervisor asked him to manage a group of IT consultants hired to overhaul their agency’s website. After his first meeting with the brilliant technologists, Mark realized he had his work cut out for him. Not only were the consultants socially awkward, but many were not self-aware and few had any patience for folks with differing opinions from their own. Mark found himself wondering, “Can these skills be taught?”

Mark’s experience is a common one. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the most prominent soft skills heralded in leadership development today. Some people are born with high EQ, and some are not. Just as coordination is helpful for someone training to be a dancer, so too EQ gives leaders an edge. But dancers can be trained. And so can leaders.

EQ Basics

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. EQ is commonly understood to include four dimensions: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. One’s interaction with these components is depicted via the below matrix.

What I See

What I Do







Social awareness



Relationship management


According to research by emotional intelligence expert Travis Bradberry, high EQ is important for the following reasons:

  • 90 percent of top performers have high EQ
  • EQ is responsible for 58% of your job performance
  • People with high EQ make $29k more each year than their counterparts with low EQ

For nonprofits that want to focus on leadership development as a competitive advantage, assessing and training for EQ is a smart place to start.

EQ Training

As is the case for many soft skills such as communication and interpersonal capabilities, it’s not easy to teach EQ. But it is possible. Here’s how.

  • Get to know yourself. It’s difficult to identify the emotions you are experiencing if you do not understand what makes you tick. Personality assessments can provide an illuminating context for your behaviors. For more information on these tools, check out Brighter Strategies’s assessment solutions.
  • Practice mindfulness. Recently we explained how mindfulness can improve your employees’ well-being and your organization’s health. Building the awareness components of EQ is all about observation without judgment – in other words, mindfulness. Become more mindful, and you will become more emotionally intelligent.
  • Set goals. It’s important to set small goals when working on your EQ skills. Behavior-based improvement must be measured frequently to encourage a sense of accomplishment toward a somewhat intangible end.
  • Find a coach. Soliciting guidance from a trained professional who is unbiased and objective will propel you toward greater EQ more quickly. A coach can ask the right questions to uncover barriers to your personal and interpersonal growth. He or she can also customize a development plan based on your current abilities in each of the four quadrants.

It’s important to hire people with strong EQ, but don’t give up on those who don’t (yet) show it. If you’re interested in incorporating an EQ emphasis in your leadership development programs, Brighter Strategies is here to help. Contact us today to learn more.