Part III: How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Improve emotional intelligence

Improving your Emotional Intelligence (EI) is more than understanding the 5 components (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill) and reading case studies. Unlike many other leadership and management tools, improving your EI is only truly learned through practice. Shifting the way you react to your own emotions, the emotions of others, while relying on your motivation, empathy and social skills to create lasting powerful relationships is a lifelong journey that begins and ends with you.

Self-awareness and self-regulation

EI all starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.[i] In other words, self-awareness is being aware of who you are, your feelings, emotions, behaviors and traits. Creating self-awareness is wanting to step outside of yourself and be an observer of your actions. It is slowing down your mind long enough to begin interpreting the cause and effect. 

Committing to self-awareness leads to the next step, self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to control or redirect your feelings, emotions, moods and traits. Self-regulation essentially gives you the choice to be in charge of your emotions, etc… or let them be in charge of you.

Self-awareness and self-regulation in action: 
  1. Name the emotion

  2. Pause, breathe, put the brakes on for a second

  3. Step out of yourself and be an observer (self-awareness)

  4. Notice the emotion, specifically where you feel it your body

  5. Reflect on why you are experiencing the emotion. Why are you reacting?

  6. Create space to put yourself in choice.

  7. Decide to stay in the emotion or let it go.[ii]

For EI, it boils down to naming your emotion, reflecting and making a choice. This is a huge piece of the work and where you will spend most of your time. This process can be done alone, but higher levels of success are achieved with a coach to help create the observation exercises and deliver critical feedback. The journey of becoming self-aware along with the ability to self-regulate is powerful, transformative, challenging and rewarding. It is the centerpiece to improve your EI.


Motivation is the desire to achieve beyond expectations and is a key component of those with EI. It is the passion to go above what is called for, to pursue lofty goals and measure your success.[iii] Motivation is difficult if you are not passionate about what you do and if your work is not in line with your goals, dreams and desires. Are you are working and living a life that achieves your goals? If yes, then keep pushing the boundaries and continue your journey of improvement. If not, then the journey to discover your motivation becomes paramount, which opens a whole new chapter of introspection.


Empathy is the aptitude to understand the emotional makeup of other people and to interact with their emotions in mind. It means putting yourself in their shoes when making decisions and seeing an issue from their perspective.

Empathy is particularly important for three reasons: teams, globalization and talent retention.[iv] Understanding the emotions of individuals and how they impact workflows and relationships is critical towards guiding a team to productive outcomes. Having empathy for different cultures and customs can make or break global relationships. Keeping top talent is crucial to success and having empathy helps to ensure they stick around.

Improving your empathy is a simple yet challenging process:
  1. Begin by deeply listening to others

  2. Clarify and reflect the listening

  3. Take time to understand from their perspective

  4. Practice

We all have a certain level of empathy; increasing yours will improve relationships, your ability to lead from a holistic perspective and make decisions with all stakeholders in mind.

Social Skill

Social skill is a leader’s ability to manage relationships and find common ground towards mutually beneficial outcomes. Social skills are the result of learning and employing self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy. Leaders with social skills communicate their passion and vision while tapping into the emotional plane of employees to create stronger teams and organizations. Leaders are also better equipped at reading, persuading and motivating people to build coalitions, teams and networks.

Leaders with social skills are adept at moving people in the direction they desire, which is key to getting things done.

Improving emotional intelligence is about leading from your heart and your mind. EI requires you to tap into your inner motivation and the will to take the risks associated with the learning. The work required to sustain EI is not only a mental exercise but also one that is driven from an internal passion towards becoming a better leader. EI is a life long learning experience, which requires commitment, patience and a determination.

Derek Lauber
image courtesy Burning Image Photography


Related Articles

Part I: A Primer on Emotional Intelligence by Derek Lauber
Part II: Emotional Intelligence at Work by Derek Lauber

[i] Self-awareness. (2011, August 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:14, August 31, 2011, from
[ii] Borysenko, Joan. “Minding the Body, Mending the Mind”, Da Capo Press, 2007.
[iii] Goleman, Daniel. “What Makes a Leader?” Harvard Business Review 76 (November-December 1998).
[iv] Goleman, Daniel. “What Makes a Leader?” Harvard Business Review 76 (November-December 1998).

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