Not all leaders require emotional intelligence to achieve success in their work. Steve Jobs was known to be very difficult to work with – berating ‘slow thinkers’ and demanding excessive long hours from staff. Yet, he achieved quality product development, leaving many to marvel at his genius regardless of any personal harm he caused.

Not for profit organizations, however, are especially vulnerable to internal turmoil and outside stakeholder backlash if their operations are not up to the high standards they set for values such as respect. The recent charges of sexual assault at St Michael’s School in Toronto is an unfortunate example. The former principal’s quote, ‘we need to understand what we’re not seeing’, may be a reflection of lack of empathy or social skills in the managers and staff, as well as in the students.

As organizations work to build trust from their clients they are relying on staff who feel trust in their organizations. Here, enduring organization leadership has emotional intelligence at its core.

Emotional intelligence relates to the innermost mindset of the manager for resourcefulness and personal growth, respect for others, commitment to values and integrity, and the resilience to stay calm in the face of challenge and pressure.  Even if you work with passion in the sector, or have advanced critical thinking skills, or people listen when you talk, deficits in emotional intelligence while you are performing these other skills weaken the fabric of your organization. Bullying, being disorganized, and suppressing conflict will deteriorate trust and result in organizational dysfunction.

Let’s say, for example, you are passionate about your organization’s work, but put undue pressure on your staff to get the work done. In a study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, cited by the Canadian Safety Council, thirty-seven per cent of workers have been bullied, with fifty-seven per cent of the targets being women. The majority of bullies (seventy-two per cent) are people in positions of authority.’ Additionally, managers frequently have other behaviours that diminish trust by their staff. A Florida State University Study revealed that:

  • Thirty-one percent of respondents reported that their supervisor gave them the “silent treatment” in the past year.
  • Thirty-seven percent reported that their supervisor failed to give credit when due.
  • Thirty-nine percent noted that their supervisor failed to keep promises.
  • Twenty-seven percent noted that their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
  • Twenty-four percent reported that their supervisor invaded their privacy.
  • Twenty-three percent indicated that their supervisor blames others to cover up mistakes or to minimize embarrassment.

In summary, a quarter to a third of staff have concerns about their manager’s behaviour. In many cases managers don’t realize how their behaviours are affecting staff. It may be that some managers with low levels of emotional intelligence cannot see it lacking in themselves, or perhaps don’t care. A strategy managers can use for self-evaluation is to ask if they observe specific behaviours in themselves.

Check if any of the statements below apply to you: Because of your feelings (e.g., worry, anger, frustration, sadness, stress, fear)

  • Are you delaying dealing with a staff issue so long that people are asking, ‘what are you doing about this’?
  • Do you use bullying tactics to deal with staff performance issues (see examples above such as giving the silent treatment, or talking behind someone’s back)?
  • Are you habitually suppressing issues at work, trying to smooth things out without dealing with the problem?
  • Do you ever feel pressured to say something false, or mislead staff in any other way?
  • Are you so behind in your work it is ‘stressing you out’? (If so, it is likely stressing your staff out as well.)

These are all indicators of the need to develop aspects of emotional intelligence! For some managers, these behaviours happen every day. For others who have developed moderate levels of emotional intelligence, they may occur during times of extreme stress.

You will find a ready assortment of on-line tips on ways to develop emotional intelligence. Though developing a high performance level of emotional intelligence is not a feat to be accomplished overnight, or in a week, or in a month, you can set goals and objectives for a plan of development, and chart steady progress. I suggest the following steps:

Step One, is to define emotional intelligence so you can more easily focus on specific characteristics that would be helpful.

Daniel Goleman is an American psychologist, researcher and author who has studied emotional intelligence as a characteristic of leadership. An example of his work is in the article, The Hard Case for Soft Skills. In an easily accessible article he published in Linked-In, Goleman describes the following perspective and skills exhibited in emotional intelligence:


Refers to knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others.


Refers to controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods.


Refers to relishing achievement for its own sake.


Refers to understanding other people’s emotional makeup.

Social skill

Refers to building rapport with others to move them in desired directions.


Step Two, is to begin to work on learning about and developing these areas in yourself. Here are 4 key ways you can immediately begin to develop emotional intelligence:

Self-awareness and learning

Start keeping a daily journal where you set goals for development and monitor your behaviours. In the area of social skills, for example, let’s say you have a habit of interrupting people when they talk in order to share your idea before they are finished with theirs; you could set out to practice listening every day and look for differences in how people begin to share their ideas with you.

Peer networking

Check in with other managers in your organization, or in other workplaces, and ask them for feedback on what they observe in you. For example, in empathy or self-regulation, do you find you are quick to judge another’s intentions before inviting them to share their point of view? Find a peer who regularly exhibits the behaviour you want to develop, such as curiosity and inquiry, and ask what strategies they use. Use that person as an example on which to model your own behaviours.

Informal or formal mentoring

According to Wikipedia, ‘Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but he or she must have a certain area of expertise.’ A mentor may be a former boss, relative, or a formal match made by a coaching service. Since developing emotional intelligence is a very personal experience, it is important to pick a mentor you can trust.


Skill development through training is a possible way to develop the skills you have identified for development. Look for training that goes beyond motivational, ‘you can do it’, and focuses on actual situations where you can practice the new behaviours you are seeking. The more practice, the better.

Emotional intelligence is like knocking over the first domino tile; once it is put in motion other obstacles will be knocked over, one after the other. You will begin to establish an atmosphere of calm and understanding that will help build momentum for you and your staff to work productively toward your organization’s goals.