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Drew Moss

DLA Piper

International Head of Leadership Development

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Why leaders need emotional intelligence more than ever before


Emotional intelligence in leadership could be the key to keeping client relationships strong, attracting the best talent, and helping your workforce succeed through technology transformation. Find out how... 

No one could argue that the digital economy, AI and machine learning aren’t bringing some truly outstanding advances to our business and personal lives. From health care to insurance, transport to professional services, an explosion of data-driven technology is providing a unique opportunity to optimise efficiency, redefine customer experience and focus on value adding activity.

Increased investment in new technologies, as well as mitigating the risks associated with them, is no longer optional if businesses are to survive. But who wants to simply survive? If businesses seek to thrive then we need to put just as much focus and investment into developing emotionally intelligent leaders.

Why? Let’s consider three critical areas:

1. Emotional intelligence is essential for client relationships

Technology is changing the way we interact with clients and consumers. In the service industry, automation and data-driven insights are freeing up advisors’ time to focus on differentiation through service and relationships.

Leaders need to take this opportunity to put even more focus on building trust if they want to cultivate client advocacy and loyalty.  Leaders should also acknowledge that behind every client’s business decision lays a raft of personal dreams, aspirations, and anxieties so empathy becomes paramount.

Leaders need to step into their clients shoes as much as they ever have, they need to listen to their clients’ hopes and fears and they need to help clients capitalise on the opportunity that big data affords.  

2. Emotional intelligence in leadership will help attract talent

The emotional climate of the business is going to become even more important. Potential employees will want to know ‘what it feels like to work around here’ just as much as they will want to be told about the opportunities they might have.

Employees are also becoming savvy to the fact that the emotional climate of an organisation (set by and perpetuated by leaders at all levels) has an impact on their own engagement and wellbeing, and this is only going to increase with the proliferation of wearable devices and biometrics.

Leaders who focus purely on revenue and profit may generate short-term results, but it will be those who put equal focus on developing their own emotional intelligence, and cultivating a positive work environment, that will generate longer-term loyalty.

When new systems are deployed in an emotionally intelligent way they are far more likely to gain the traction, take up and intended results.  

Emotionally intelligent leaders will recognise the need to treat their employees in the same way they would a client or customer. They will also role model the organisations’ values and recognise that living values is far more than rhetoric.

Put simply, leaders who prioritise relationships, as well as results, will supercharge their organisations.

Make no mistake, this takes personal conviction and bravery – leaders need to be prepared to hold each other to account when colleagues achieve results at the expense of relationships.

3. Emotional intelligence against a backdrop of technology transformation and change

A recent TED talk makes a good point – successful systems change and implementation needs as much focus on the human aspect of change as it does the technology itself.

Having emotional intelligence in leadership positions is key to recognising (perhaps through leaders reflecting on past failures) that even the most advanced systems will only generate results if people get to know them, overcome their anxieties and learn how to integrate them into their daily lives.

AI in lieu of EI will rarely generate the intended results within organisations. Yet when new systems are deployed in an emotionally intelligent way they are far more likely to gain the traction, take up and intended results.  

Notwithstanding the fact that organisations should recruit for emotional intelligence, substantial investment must be put on developing the emotional intelligence skills of current and future leaders.

Whether EI is the sine non qua of leadership can be debated – what can’t is its obvious contribution to the performance and wellbeing of organisations and their client and employee experience.

So what steps can we take to develop leaders’ emotional intelligence? The good news is that studies show that emotional intelligence can be developed but it takes commitment and a long-term approach. Two activities which can have significant impact include:

360 feedback

While confronting, a robust EI-based 360 feedback and facilitated debrief is critical. In previous articles I’ve suggested that self-awareness is the most critical aspect of leadership so it’s no coincidence that it features at the very heart of emotional intelligence.

Leaders need a clear sense of how their behaviour impacts those around them and the time and focus to plan and experiment. An annual review can create personal momentum, particularly if leaders see an uplift (or sometimes a decrease) in factors they have committed to action.

With continued focus, coaches are likely to help leaders make the link between EI and tangible business results.

A word of caution though – 360 feedback needs expert debriefing and a commitment to longer-term coaching, ideally with an organisational psychologist to get the best outcomes. Simply providing a report is likely to be counterproductive for some, damaging for others.


Linked to the suggestion above, coaching for emotional intelligence can help leaders increase their EI capability. An expert and trusted coach can help leaders focus on the distinct aspect of EI and add in real-time emotional reflection.

Having leaders consider their current vs desired emotional footprint can also be powerful as can experimentation and reflection. With continued focus, coaches are likely to help leaders make the link between EI and tangible business results fuelling further effort and commitment to action.  

The time has come to re-evaluate the importance of emotional intelligence and to give as much credence to the emotional as the rational. Leaders willing to do so are likely to see their organisations, and their own personal wellbeing, grow now and in the future.

Want to read more on this topic? Visit our content hub on boosting emotional intelligence in the workplace.

One Response

  1. Really good piece Drew –
    Really good piece Drew – thanks. Couldn’t agree more. Apart from psychology and psychotherapy, there is one other profession that explores emotional intelligence in a deep and practical way. Acting.
    Why theatre-based, experiential learning is so powerful in this area is because actors exercise emotional understanding (getting inside a character) and emotional expression (varying their range) in a way that others do not. It’s why behavioural change in EI is achieved much quicker than other approaches. Providing an environment where people can rehearse emotional expression makes a huge difference.
    Thanks again for an important contribution to this area of work.

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Drew Moss

International Head of Leadership Development

Read more from Drew Moss

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