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Decision Making as an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

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By Tony Webster via Flickr

Recall the biggest decision you’ve faced in the last five or ten years. It may have been whether to start a business, move your parents into an assisted care facility, or maybe go back to college. What were the factors you considered when choosing between options? If your Emotional Quotient is relatively high, you considered more than just the pros and cons and potential outcomes and risks. You considered your own preferences and you considered how those decisions were affected by your own emotions. You also weighed how those decisions would affect others.

Emotionally intelligent leaders aren’t held captive by their own or other people’s emotions … but they DO recognize them. They have the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply their depth of emotional perception to advance high levels of collaboration and productivity between people. Leaders with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) are better able to accurately predict how people will react in varying situations and then tailor their message so it isn’t lost in translation.

Leaders Remain In Control

Leaders with a high EQ are cognizant of their physiological responses during any event but especially during an emotional event and use their awareness to control their own behavioral responses. This competency of control results in better decision making which leads directly to superior performance. Clear thinking culminates in better decisions.

Have you ever met a leader who “lost it” when something spiraled out of his or her control? How about a leader who maintained a calm demeanor in the face of chaos or uncertainty.

Several years ago I met a man whom I consider to be one of the wisest I’ve ever known. In his own a gentle way, he challenged my decision making process like no one had. “Consider every major decision you’ve made in your life, Ron, and I’ll wager that most of those decisions were based on your own personal comfort and happiness.”

Personally, I was horrified at that thought but I had to admit it was true. “Virtually every decision we make from where we work, to whom we marry, to even our simplest everyday decisions, is based on our own comfort, our own preferences, our own happiness” he continued. “A great leader is able to see that tendency within himself and make decisions based on the good of those his decision will affect the most, even if that decision is frightening.

Unknowingly, he was speaking of one of the five core components of emotional intelligence. And he’s right: an emotionally intelligent leader considers how his or her own emotions affect their decisions as well as the impact those decisions will have on others. An emotionally intelligent leader connects the dots. 

Taking it a step further, an emotionally intelligent leader understands and reads the emotions of those he or she is leading to adjust their communication so the message is properly received. “How” we speak is as important as what we say.


Think of the melody Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Now imagine it being played sweetly on a finely tuned violin. Imagine how easily a child (or a weary adult) could fall asleep to that lilting lullaby. Now, just as the child is about to fall asleep, change the instrument to a trumpet, played loudly above the child’s cradle. The tune is the same but how it’s played will make all the difference.

Yet, in another setting, using a trumpet to play that tune may be entirely appropriate and enjoyable.

The Emotionally Intelligent Leader Adjusts

When leaders consider their own emotions as well as the emotional responses and needs of those they’re leading – and the leader makes adjustments – the end result is higher levels of team collaboration and productivity.

It’s a simple illustration, but it makes the point: Leaders with a high Emotional Quotient make the decision of what tune to play (strategy) and how to play it (tactics) keeping in mind the emotions, the passions, the strength of feeling, and the sensitivities of those he or she is leading. The emotionally intelligent leader makes decisions based on the strengths of the team and manages relationships in light of an understanding of the emotional makeup of the people he or she is leading.

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