Emotional Intelligence in Leadership: Raising the Leaders of the Future

The children of today will be the leaders of the future and it’s important that parents realise the significance of emotional intelligence in leaders. It’s this factor that allows for leaders to be kind, considerate, caring, and ethical. 

In this article, we’ll explore the significance of emotional intelligence in leadership and how parents can cultivate this within their children. 

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The concept of emotional intelligence was popularised by psychologist Daniel Goleman in the 1990s, and it has since become a vital area of study in psychology, leadership, and personal development.

Emotional intelligence (EI), often referred to as an emotional quotient (EQ), can be described as a set of abilities and skills that involve understanding and managing one's own emotions and recognising and empathising with the emotions of others. It goes beyond cognitive intelligence (IQ) and plays a crucial role in how individuals perceive, understand, express, and manage emotions in themselves and in their interactions with others.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important? 

Ultimately, it’s believed that those with higher emotional intelligence are more successful in various aspects of life, including relationships, leadership roles, and overall wellbeing. There are multiple reasons why emotional intelligence has these effects. 

  • Enhanced relationship building: those with a high level of emotional intelligence can build strong and positive relationships with their team members, friends, and family. This is because they are attuned to the emotions and needs of others, which allows them to connect on a deeper level. In the workplace this strong rapport fosters trust and loyalty, making it easier to motivate others.
  • Effective communication: emotional intelligence cultivates strong communicators. Because they are able to express themselves clearly and empathetically, making it easier for others to understand their vision, goals, and intentions. Additionally, they are attentive listeners, which helps them address concerns and provide support to their team members.
  • Increased empathy and understanding: those who possess emotional intelligence are empathetic and understanding. They can put themselves in the shoes of others, understand their perspectives, and acknowledge their feelings. This leads to a more compassionate and inclusive environment, where those around them feel valued and supported.
  • Better conflict resolution: conflict is inevitable in any situation and environment; however, those with emotional intelligence are able to navigate conflicts with grace and sensitivity. They approach conflicts with emotional control and objectivity, seeking resolutions that satisfy all parties involved. 
  • Enhanced emotional regulation: those with emotional intelligence can stay composed and focused, even in high-pressure situations, as they are able to regulate their emotions. This helps them make sound decisions and inspires confidence in those who surround them.
  • More resilience: whether in a professional or personal setting, there will be challenges and setbacks that need to be faced and dealt with. Emotional intelligence encourages resilience as those who possess this skill will often bounce back from failures and setbacks with determination. This positive attitude and emotional strength is important when aiming to inspire and motivate others during difficult times.
  • Greater team collaboration: emotionally intelligent people are able to promote cooperation and work very well with others. They encourage open communication, active listening, and a shared sense of purpose, which leads to better teamwork.
  • A higher level of adaptability: the world is constantly evolving, and it’s important for people to adapt to these changes. Emotional intelligence enables us to be flexible and open-minded, embrace change, and guide others towards success.
  • Ethical decision-making: it’s important to make ethical decisions in life, whether they be within the working environment or on a personal level. Those with emotional intelligence tend to consider the impact of their choices on individuals and their environment as a whole. This, in turn, encourages integrity and responsibility in everyone who surrounds them.

When do Children Develop Empathy?

While there is no conclusive answer to when children develop empathy as of yet, a compelling argument has been made that states that children need to be able to identify and understand emotions in order to show empathy. Therefore, according to this theory, children start to understand emotions and demonstrate empathy towards others at the age of 4. 

At this stage, they’ll start to notice when their family members or friends are upset or happy and comfort or share in the emotions that are being demonstrated by others. 

There is, however, a difference between cognitive and affective empathy. Children will typically first show an inclination towards affective empathy as this involves recognising and having an emotional reaction towards another person’s emotional state. On the other hand, cognitive empathy requires an understanding of an individual's perspective and emotions regarding a specific topic. 

Therefore, a child might see their parent or peer being sad and comfort them without understanding why they are comforting that person (affective empathy). As a child develops, they’ll start to understand why their parents or peers are having a certain emotional reaction and comfort them with the intent of addressing the subject (cognitive empathy). 

Cultivating Empathy and Compassion in Children

Emotional intelligence is not a fixed trait; it can be developed and improved with self-awareness, practice, and feedback. It’s also something that can be cultivated in children from a young age by encouraging empathy and compassion within their actions and considerations. 

Prioritise Caring for Others

Young children learn by example and it’s, therefore, important for parents to prioritise caring for others. Whether it be by supporting friends going through a difficult time, helping family with tasks, showing kindness to strangers, and more. The goal is to shift the attention away from the individual and onto others and their needs. 

It can also be useful for parents to consciously change their language and choice of words to reflect a caring attitude. For example, instead of saying, “All that matter is that you are happy” to a child, parents can say “All that matters is that you are kind to others and that you are happy”. This will still enforce that it’s important for them to experience happiness but will also shift some attention onto the happiness of others and prevent them from only caring about themselves. 

Expand on Social Awareness

For most children and even adults, it’s not hard to have empathy for close friends and family. This is because people naturally care for those around them. However, it can be more challenging to develop empathy for others who are far outside of their immediate circle. For example, does a family show empathy to the beggar on the street, the children at school who come from a low-income family, the orphans at the local orphanage, and so forth? 

It’s important for parents to shine a light on others who suffer and demonstrate empathy for those groups. This can be done in small ways. For example, most grocery stores and fast food restaurants will have the option to donate a small amount of money to a charity. Parents can take this opportunity to donate and explain to their children why it’s important to show this form of support and what these groups of people are experiencing. 

This can also be encouraged by prompting a child to imagine themselves in another person's shoes. Parents can ask questions like, "How do you think they feel?" or "What would you do if you were in their situation?" This exercise helps children to develop empathy by considering others' feelings and needs.

Cultivate Relationship Skills

As children interact with their peers, they’ll start to develop relationships and relationship skills. It’s important that parents monitor how their child is interacting with their friends and peers. Are they considering the feelings of their friends, or are they more concerned with their own enjoyment and happiness? 

Parents can instil empathy and relationship skills by encouraging their children to communicate their emotions efficiently, actively listen to others, and gain perspective on a situation by putting themselves in their friend’s shoes. 

For example, if a parent notices an altercation between their child and one of their friends, instead of stepping in and scolding one of the children, ask them to both calmly explain what happened and what they are feeling. Then ask them both to try to see the other child’s perspective and encourage them to find a solution, apologise, and make up. 

Teach Emotional Management Skills

It’s common for children to express every emotion they feel. It can be beneficial to teach them emotional management skills from a young age. This can be done by encouraging children to assess what emotions they are feeling and why they are feeling these emotions. By recognising their own emotions, they’ll develop a better understanding of others' feelings.

It can also be useful for parents to demonstrate this by performing the exercise when they are upset with their children. Instead of only explaining what they did wrong and why what they did is bad, parents should also explain why those actions upset them and how it has made them feel. This will demonstrate to the child that their actions have effects on others and that they should consider this before making a decision or acting on an impulse. 

Enrolling a child in a social and emotional learning course can also be extremely useful, as they’ll be taught how to manage their emotions and process them effectively. 

Provide Opportunities for Practice

It’s important for parents to teach their children how to be empathetic but it’s also important to provide children with opportunities to practise their empathy skills. Parents can encourage this behaviour in their children by motivating them to perform acts of kindness, both big and small. Simple gestures like sharing toys, helping with chores, or being supportive of a friend in need can foster compassion and create a positive environment.

For example, if a parent knows that their child’s friend is going through a difficult time, they can encourage their child to bake their friend cupcakes or pick them flowers. This will instil the idea that they should support those around them, even if it’s only with a small gesture. 

Why is Community Service Important? 

Community service is highly beneficial for children, as it offers numerous valuable lessons and experiences that contribute to their personal, social, and emotional development. Engaging in community service fosters empathy and compassion as children interact with diverse individuals and learn about different challenges faced by their community members. 

This participation will also develop a sense of responsibility and accountability as children understand the impact of their actions on others and their community. Furthermore, it will boost their self-esteem and confidence, reinforcing their belief in their abilities to make a difference. 

This level of giving back also instils a sense of gratitude and a desire to help the community by working with those facing challenging circumstances. Overall, community service shapes children into well-rounded adults with a sense of purpose and moral compass, who actively contribute to building a stronger and more connected community.

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