HR Florida


Florida State Council Affiliate of SHRM

How To Turn Your Managers Into Leaders Using Emotional Intelligence

By Sara Mueller

The Reality

Long gone are the days of 20th century leadership that was coercive, top-down, authoritative, and militaristic.

Long gone is the loyal-for-the-long-term workforce that sucked it up when things got tough, worked hard long hours without complaint, and were happy just getting a paycheck every two weeks.

With more gender and cultural diversity in the workplace than ever before and multiple generations represented, more employees are motivated by:

The Data

In 2021, Gallup found that only 36% of US employees were engaged at work. This disengagement drastically reduces employee retention, productivity, and how efficiently a leader can implement new initiatives.

A study by CPP Global found that Americans spend an average of 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict at work, with the primary cause of this workplace conflict being personality and ego clashes (in other words: human or relationship issues).

Harvard Business Review reported that 2/3 of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees.

A Vital Smarts study found that 70% of people avoid difficult conversations with their boss, coworker, or direct report.

In other words: Difficult, yet necessary conversations are, for one reason or another, heavily avoided in the workplace.

The Consequences

Organizations are full of disengaged employees, frequent work conflict, ego clashes, avoidance behavior, attitude… or much worse – are empty (aka suffering staff shortages).

Chances are if you’re still leading with the techniques mentioned above, your organization is starting to mirror these statistics.

SORRY, NOT SORRY,” says the workforce.

So how do you navigate the changes? What do you do with this information?

Emotional Intelligence: The Journey

Plainly stated, emotional intelligence is the ability to know and manage ourselves more effectively so we can better understand and influence others. The pillars of EQ are building blocks on one another. You must have success in pillar #1 before you can move on to #2, #3, and on.

EQ Pillar #1: Self-Awareness: The ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen.

An essential way to increase self-awareness is to feel your feelings. This is harder than it sounds, as most of us were taught during childhood to hide, numb out, or deny our feelings. “Boys don’t cry.” “Smile and look pretty!” “You’re sad about not getting invited to Kayla’s party? Here, have a cookie!”

To begin, understand that your feelings aren’t good or bad; they are neutral messengers. If you feel anger, there may be something you want to take a stand against. If you feel joy at work, perhaps you should request similar projects. If you feel resentful, perhaps a boundary needs to be established. What is the message your feeling has for you?

EQ Pillar #2: Self-Management: The ability to use awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and positively direct your behavior.

Most things that contribute to effective self-management, we already know we should be doing – yet we don’t do them consistently: exercising regularly, getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night, eating healthy whole foods, relaxing, spending time on what matters, and so on.

Many of us deprioritize the things that help us manage ourselves effectively. We find ourselves living on autopilot, responding to others’ needs, and always feeling “so busy.”

We have to understand that our primitive brains hate change; it wants to repeat patterns so it can conserve energy for dealing with “danger”. But, in our modern world, this preference for living on autopilot makes it hard to rewire our emotional patterns, relational patterns, core beliefs, and daily habits. Once aware of your ancient ways, though, you can deconstruct the patterns and begin choosing more conscious, productive behavior that is in line with your greatest self. You’ll be able to consistently contribute to your success and wellness, rather than neglecting what you know you “should” be doing.

EQ Pillar #3: Others-Awareness: The ability to accurately pick up on others’ emotions, have empathy, and understand what is really going on.

Many of us practice sympathy (instead of empathy) with others. We are obsessed with fixing the person in front of us instead of connecting with them. What they often need is for you to just listen.

Listen without waiting for your turn to respond or interrupting with “Me too!” Allow for a five-second pause between when the other person finishes speaking and when you respond. Often, with that pause, the person will begin to share what is really going on behind the words they just spoke. It is after truly being listened to that we begin to come up with our own answers, which empowers your team and helps them to feel validated.

When your team members feel understood and cared about as a human, not just a number or a means to an end, burnout is reduced and resilience is increased. Voila!

EQ Pillar #4: Relationship Management: The ability to use awareness of your and others’ emotions to positively influence others.

Pillar #4 is where effective, inspirational leadership happens. This is where healthy marriages and raising thriving children take place. This is where businesses empower their people to generate their greatest results.

One simple way to increase your relationship management skills is to have the difficult conversations you are avoiding. Instead of avoiding this necessary conflict, have the conversations. Hold your people accountable. Show up vulnerable for those you lead and love.

In Conclusion

Today’s workforce requires emotionally intelligent leadership.

Conflict management, employee engagement and retention, productivity, and a culture of meaning, belonging, psychological safety and innovation are all essential for success in today’s marketplace.

Emotional intelligence enhances all of these leadership necessities. Because, at the end of the day, no matter how technologically savvy our organizations are, we are human beings working with human beings. When our businesses can get relationships right with emotional intelligence, our growth and impact will soar.

Sara Mueller helps leaders enhance their emotional intelligence to elevate the guest/client experience and be more impactful at work + home. She underwent her own emotional intelligence journey after being burnt out in her career and then complimented her hard-won wisdom at Harvard University, Florida State University, and the Conscious Coaching Institute. Sara’s an executive contributor on leadership for Brainz Magazine where she received the Global 500 Award, and serves as a subject matter expert on mental well-being for Florida’s State Health Improvement Plan. Prior to founding Joy Discovered Inc., Sara spent nearly two decades developing service optimization programs and teaching mindfulness to Fortune Global 500 executives, the NFL Combine, and behavioral health centers.