Business Bites: Resonance and emotional intelligence

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO sector skills development officer

In this week’s Business Bites, we’ll consider resonance – not dissonance – and take a look at emotional intelligence (EI)…

“Resonant leaders are in tune with the people around them. They know and can communicate what to do and why to do it,” Annie McKee and Dick Massimilian

For the resonant leader, personal and financial credit are the by-products more than the objectives of achievement. Ultimately, the resonant leader is more concerned with the performance of the organisation than with his or her individual advancement1. Short-term results are important, particularly if a business is in the midst of a real crisis. But whilst short-term results are important, a preoccupation with short-term results creates dissonance and drives resonance out of the business.

Without resonance, long-term results are impossible. The high-adrenaline, crisis-driven environment is not viable long-term either for an individual or business. Crises can emerge in many different forms, and they often strike without warning. Many businesses have written contingency plans for emergencies, but what most of these plans omit is a crucial factor in effective crisis management: emotional intelligence (EI).

Intelligent handling of the emotions that come with crisis is crucial. An emotionally intelligent leader will handle any crisis, no matter the size or duration, better than someone without EI competencies. EI – or emotional quotient (EQ) – at work is about how people and relationships function; it is about leadership, teamwork, management skills and partnership.

What is emotional intelligence?

EI  is mainly referred to as a person’s capabilities of understanding their own emotional behaviours and handling them. People who have high EI are able to figure out how to control their emotions in different situations, along with understanding others’ emotions. They are, therefore, able to react to information better and make sure that their responses are well managed. This proves to be a great trait to have as it enables you to stay grounded even when things are going bad or when you are in a tough position.

Developed by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990, EQ can be used by leaders to develop and improve their leadership styles and interactions with others. An ability to develop the regulation of emotions impacts on not only the well-being of the leader in their role, but also as an individual and additionally the people that they interact with, within the team and in general2.

Daniel Goleman later built on their work, and popularised the concept in his 1996 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ. This outlined a five-element framework for emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: the ability to understand yourself, your strengths and weaknesses and how others see you
  • Self-control: the ability to control yourself and think before you act
  • Motivation: the drive to work and succeed
  • Empathy: the ability to understand other peoples’ feelings and viewpoints
  • Social skills: communicating and relating to others

Some particular management competencies depend strongly upon EI. For example, to manage successfully, we usually need to be able to3:

  • Manage ourselves and not vent any frustration we feel on colleagues or team members
  • Be self-aware and recognise our real, rather than perceived, strengths and weaknesses
  • Regularly seek feedback from others on our behaviour and actions and reflect on this recognise that we all change over time, and our work motivations and relationships will change too
  • Motivate others as well as ourselves
  • Counsel or coach others within the organisation
  • Encourage others, and offer advice
  • Develop good working relationships

Managers should avoid3:

  • Assuming that they or others don’t bring emotions to work; feelings can be hidden, but not dropped at will
  • Thinking that EI is not relevant to behaviour at work
  • Assuming their own EI is confirmed, unchanging, and needs no further development
  • Thinking that there are ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ emotions – all emotions are useful indicators of climate and motivation
  • Failing to understand that emotions are highly context-dependent and are always the product of an interaction and a specific situation
  • Forgetting that different cultures have varying ideas about the appropriate expression of emotions
  • Overlooking that there can be a ‘dark side’ to EI as it can be used to exploit people’s vulnerability for unethical reasons

Korn Ferry Hay Group research found that among leaders with multiple strengths in emotional self-awareness, 92 per cent had teams with high energy and high performance. Great leaders create a positive emotional climate that encourages motivation and extra effort, and they’re the ones with good emotional self-awareness. In sharp contrast, leaders low in emotional self-awareness created negative climates 78 per cent of the time4.

Emotional self-awareness isn’t something that you achieve once and then you’re done with it. Rather, every moment is an opportunity to either be self-aware or not. It is a continual endeavour, a conscious choice to be self-aware. The good news is that the more you practice it, the easier it becomes,” says Goleman4.

If you lack emotional self-awareness, your sense of empathy is also impaired. On empathy, Goleman states: “Empathy means having the ability to sense others’ feelings and how they see things. You take an active interest in their concerns. You pick up cues to what’s being felt and thought. With empathy, you sense unspoken emotions. You listen attentively to understand the other person’s point of view, the terms in which they think about what’s going on. Empathic leaders get along well with people from very different backgrounds and cultures, and can express their ideas in ways the other person will understand. Empathy doesn’t mean psyching out the other person so you can manipulate them, but rather knowing how best to collaborate with them5.

Empathy is at the core of the competencies in the relationship management part of EI; the basis for more complex relationship management skills, including influencing other people or having a positive impact, mentoring other people, managing conflict, inspiring them as a leader, and teamwork.

Emotional self-control doesn’t just matter for keeping the leader calm and less stressed; it impacts the emotions of everyone they interact with, and the productivity of the organisation. On this, Goleman says: “Emotional self-control is the ability to keep your disruptive emotions and impulses in check, to maintain your effectiveness under stressful or even hostile conditions. With emotional self-control, you manage your disruptive impulses and destabilising emotions, staying clear-headed and calm6.

Here are five ways to develop your EI7:

1. Manage your negative emotions. When you’re able to manage and reduce your negative emotions, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed. Easier said than done, right? Try this: If someone is upsetting you, don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, allow yourself to look at the situation in a variety of ways. Try to look at things objectively so you don’t get riled up as easily.
2. Be mindful of your vocabulary. Focus on becoming a stronger communicator in the workplace.
3. Practice empathy. Centring on verbal and non-verbal cues can give you invaluable insight into the feelings of your colleagues or clients. Practice focusing on others and walking in their shoes, even if just for a moment.
4. Know your stressors. Take stock of what stresses you out, and be proactive to have less of it in your life.
5. Bounce back from adversity. Everyone encounters challenges. It’s how you react to these challenges that either sets you up for success or puts you on the track to full on meltdown mode. You already know that positive thinking will take you far. To help you bounce back from adversity, practice optimism instead of complaining. What can you learn from this situation? Ask constructive questions to see what you can take away from the challenge at hand.

EI can evolve over time, as long as you have the desire to increase it. Every person, challenge, or situation faced is a prime learning opportunity to test your EQ. It takes practice, but you can start reaping the benefits immediately.


1. McKee A and Massimilian D. Resonant leadership: a new kind of leadership for the digital age. Journal of Business Strategy 2006;25(5):45-49.
2. Chartered Management Institute. Spotlight on emotional intelligence.
3. Chartered Management Institute. Management Direct. Checklist 178 Emotional intelligence.
4. Goleman D. What is emotional self-awareness. Korn Ferry Institute. Insights.
5. Goleman D. Empathy: the surprisingly crucial business skill. Korn Ferry Institute. Insights.
6. Goleman D. How emotional self-control impacts your work. Korn Ferry Institute. Insights.
7. Stahl A. Five ways to develop your emotional intelligence. Forbes.

Useful links

Landry L. Why emotional intelligence is important in leadership. 3 April 2019. Harvard Business School Online.

Wiens K and Rowell D. How to embrace change using emotional intelligence. 31 December 2018. Harvard Business Review.

Tait B. Understanding the neuoroscience behind emotional intelligence. 22 April 2020. Forbes.

Lindinger M. How to identify and practice emotional intelligence in the workplace. 2 January 2030. Forbes.