Why Every Leader Needs to Practice Emotional Intelligence in 2021

Why Every Leader Needs to Practice Emotional Intelligence in 2021

By Tricia O'Connor

What tone did your organization’s leaders set this year?

  • Did the chaos, uncertainty, and turbulence get the best of them and affect their ability to effectively communicate and guide employees?
  • Were they transparent and honest about the hardships they were facing and how that might impact their employees and overall business goals?

If it’s the latter, then your leadership team sounds like it has strong Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and are equipped with the skills needed to confront challenges and maintain morale.

If it’s the former, we can help.

EBI interviewed two executive communications experts who coach, train, and guide leaders on how to deliver effective messaging. Here are the skills they say every people manager and leader needs to cultivate to consistently practice emotional intelligence.

Meet our Emotional Intelligence Experts

Bryan-Spevak-Emotional Intelligence EBI BlogBryan Spevak is vice president at anthonyBarnum Public Relations, a national public relations firm specializing in complex industries.

An award-winning public relations specialist, Bryan is recognized for his exceptional strategic planning and marketing campaigns. He excels at coaching leaders on how to deliver authentic messaging to motivate employees and drive consumer behaviors.


Tyler-Pearson-Emotional Intelligence EBI BlogTyler Pearson is the principal at High Iron, a leading content marketing and executive communication agency.

A longtime journalist, Tyler has interviewed presidents and celebrities, although his greatest joy is being a “storytelling geek” and helping enterprise executives use humanity to connect with their employees and audiences.

EBI: What does emotional intelligence mean to you?

Spevak: Emotional intelligence to me is the ability to understand your own emotions and others’ emotions, as well as how those emotions can drive behavior, and then using that specific knowledge to motivate others. It’s about knowing what people are feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect those around them.

Pearson: Emotional intelligence is about how you deal with your staff and your employees and how you’re able to relate to them and use yourself as a conduit to create a safe and caring work environment people want to be at. 

EBI: What skills or attributes do you feel are the foundation or components of someone who has emotional intelligence?


  • Self-awareness – If you are self-aware, you always know how you are feeling, and how your actions and emotions can directly affect those around you.
  • Self-regulation – Is about staying in control of your emotions, understanding what is most important to you, and staying committed to practicing personal accountability.
  • Empathy – Having empathy is critical, as it allows you the ability to put yourself in someone else’s situation and view their different emotional responses and perceptions.
  • Relationship Management – Refers to how a person can effectively influence, mentor, coach others, and resolve conflict.

Pearson: Empathy. I always feel that’s point one that often gets overlooked. If you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective and understand where they come from, that ultimately creates trust and transparency and an environment where employees can do their best work. 

Communication skills are a close second because nothing is going to come through the way you intend it – no matter how empathetic or successful you are – if you don’t have positive communication skills that build trust and transparency. If you can create a company where everyone feels a level of trust with leadership and you are transparent in your operations and are communicating that well, employees will buy into your mission and culture.

EBI: Why is it important for leaders, especially people managers, to practice emotional intelligence? Do you have any examples of how this has worked successfully?

Spevak: Leaders set the tone for an organization; having emotional intelligence is essential, not only for yourself but also for those who look to you for guidance. If those in charge lack emotional intelligence, the consequences can affect employee engagement and potentially result in higher employee turnover rates because of negative interactions.

Example: Having an ongoing hand in the development and training of employees at anthonyBarnum, I’ve learned to exercise patience and a leveled emotional approach to meet the individual where they are and not where I expect them to be. I’ve found this to be the most effective approach in understanding where an employee is, where they need to go, and the best route to get there. Staying grounded in my own emotions has helped me identify with the other person’s strengths and weaknesses throughout the process and how I can be a supportive leader.

Pearson: When COVID-19 hit, there was little information and a great deal of stress. Workers across the country had questions. Would there be layoffs? Would there be pay cuts? The same was true at a national technology company with whom I advise. The CEO of this organization understood the stress his people were under. He set up regular company-wide meetings to discuss the state of the business. With full transparency, he laid out the company’s financials and discussed potential scenarios. Even when the news was difficult, there was a sense of relief from the employees because they understood the state of the business and how it affected them.

Not knowing is often scarier than any alternative. This level of trust did not happen overnight. It had been built up over years of transparent and regular communication. The company is back in growth mode and its ability to retain staff has been instrumental in its continued success and growth. This is an example of emotional intelligence at work. It would have been easier and faster to plug ahead, but the CEO understood the value of supporting his team during a difficult time.

EBI: How did 2020 impact the need for, or the use of, emotional intelligence, and how do you see that continuing and adapting in 2021?

Spevak: 2020 has highlighted many peculiar, never-before-seen challenges that organizations across business sectors have been forced to adapt to in real-time, causing leaders to reevaluate the way they interact with others within their work environments (the majority of which shifted to virtual/remote). It’s been mission-critical for leaders to acknowledge the emotional complexities of such uncertain times, and actively integrate emotional intelligence within their personal interactions by identifying, articulating, and anticipating the emotional responses and needs of others during these stressful times.

I’m not sure what 2021 will hold but staying grounded and centered in their personal emotions will help leaders identify their own fears and anxieties. Only then will they understand how others are feeling, creating the capacity to make good decisions, and effectively manage with compassion and confidence.

Pearson: I think one of the craziest things about COVID-19 is that it didn’t just create challenges but opportunities for leaders. If you had the right culture in place, this was the time you were going to lean into that. If you built the trust and transparency in the good times, that was going to carry through and be believed by the people in your organization during a difficult time. 

Emotional intelligence isn’t going away. I found that businesses that were already utilizing emotional intelligence succeeded during this time of crisis. We now can see that if you invest in the culture and emotional intelligence of your organization, you’re going to better suited for that next crisis. 

EBI Is Here For You

Practicing emotional intelligence is a bit like yoga. You need to stretch your empathy and communication muscles before you can effectively implement emotional intelligence into your leadership and let it infuse your culture.

If you need a little boost in looking at emotional intelligence from an employee’s point of view, check out this ebook: Beyond Safety: Reopening and Rebuilding Your Workplace with Employee Needs and Organizational Culture in Mind written by Marti Kurland, leader of EBI’s Global Design Culture and Catherine Mattice-Zundel, President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners.

This ebook is available by downloading this On-Demand webinar.

Additionally, our COVID-19 HR Resources page is full of posts focused on boosting positivity and morale while this pandemic continues.

We are all in this together. EBI is here to help. Get to know us and speak with one of our experts.

About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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