Human-Centric Leadership: Emotional Intelligence Skills to Build

Visionary Leadership,

For human-centric leaders, who recognize that people are not just “human resources” but are valuable assets to the organization, there’s one quality that is absolutely essential — emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions. It’s a quality made up of several “soft” skills, and as such is often overlooked by hiring managers. But it is increasingly recognized as a critical trait for personal and professional success.

Leaders who possess high EI are better equipped to understand and connect with their team members, communicate effectively, manage conflicts, and inspire others.

Fortunately, it’s a quality that can be developed with practice. By intentionally honing the skills that make up emotional intelligence — self-awareness, empathy, communication, and conflict resolution — leaders can connect with and inspire their teams, creating a human-centric workplace.

In this post, we’ll discuss the various skills that make up emotional intelligence, see how they are important to human-centric leaders, and offer tips for building each skill.

Emotional Intelligence Skill #1: Self-Awareness

“The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

Self-aware leaders identify and manage their own emotions effectively. They understand their own strengths, weaknesses, and triggers. They recognize how their behaviors impact others, and are able to regulate their emotional reactions to minimize negative outcomes and create positive ones.

An emotionally intelligent leader who monitors their own emotional state and that of their team members can create a positive environment by bolstering their team. They are adaptable and resilient in the face of challenges. And they can navigate uncertain situations, manage stress, bounce back from setbacks, and inspire their employees to do the same.

How To Enhance Self-Awareness

To enhance self-awareness, you’ll need to set aside time for self-reflection, considering your emotional state, thoughts, and behaviors and assessing the impact you may have had on others. As you consider these factors, you’ll identify patterns and areas where you can grow.

  • Daily journaling has been proven to be an excellent tool for self-reflection and mental health. Keep track of events in your life, how you reacted, and how you wish you had reacted, learning from everything you do.
  • Self-assessment exercises: Consider taking an emotional intelligence assessment such as the EQ-i 2.0 or the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) to get valuable insights into your emotional intelligence strengths and areas for improvement.

Emotional Intelligence Skill #2: Empathy

“Life teaches you empathy, and empathy is the source [of] success in any innovative agenda you have.” — Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Leaders who are empathetic are able to:

  • Connect on a deeper level
  • Show genuine care
  • Create a supportive work environment
  • Anticipate the needs of their teams, provide appropriate support
  • Motivate and inspire their teams

Human-centric leaders understand the importance of empathy in building strong relationships and fostering a sense of belonging. They put themselves in others' shoes, listen with compassion, and respond with understanding. They consider the emotions, needs, and perspectives of their team members and act accordingly.

Empathetic leaders are able to understand the perspectives of all parties involved in complex situations and find common ground. They foster an atmosphere of trust, respect, and psychological safety. And when employees feel valued and understood, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated to contribute their best efforts. 

How To Cultivate Empathy

Cultivating empathy requires caring for and understanding others, and the ability to imagine how someone else might perceive a situation differently than you.

Try some tools and exercises to cultivate empathy. One basic exercise to start with is to spend time with people you don’t know well and actively practice putting yourself in their shoes. What is happening in their lives, and how do they feel about it? What factors contribute to them feeling the way they do?

Emotional Intelligence Skill #3: Communication

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” — Peter Drucker

Leaders with strong communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, are able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly, listen actively to others, and adapt their communication style to different people and situations. This fosters open and honest dialogue, encourages collaboration, and ensures that team members feel heard and understood.

Communicating more authentically enhances team dynamics and allows team members to clearly express their thoughts and ideas. This leads to more meaningful collaboration and innovation.

How To Build Communication Skills

Clear and effective communication goes beyond exchanging information; it creates trust and fosters collaboration. To become a better communicator, focus on all aspects of communication — not just words.

Practice active listening; offer your full attention to the person talking (no glancing at your phone!), maintain eye contact, and avoid interrupting. Reflect on what is being communicated both verbally and non-verbally. Acknowledge and validate the communicator’s feelings.

Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Try observing people known for exceptional communication skills, such as TED speakers, influential leaders, and skilled presenters. Analyze their body language, facial expressions, and vocal intonations for inspiration and ideas on incorporating effective nonverbal cues into your communication style.

Emotional Intelligence Skill #4: Conflict Management

“You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.” – Dale Carnegie

Conflict is an inevitable part of any workplace, but emotionally intelligent leaders approach it with a unique perspective. Conflict management is a skill that builds on the three previous skills  — self-awareness, empathy, and communication.

  • Because leaders with high emotional intelligence are good at self-regulation, they can stay calm under pressure and remain composed during challenging situations.
  • Because they are empathetic, they can consider diverse perspectives and find win-win solutions that satisfy the needs of all parties involved.
  • And because they are strong communicators, they can defuse tension, encourage open dialogue, and facilitate effective problem-solving.

By managing conflicts effectively, emotionally intelligent leaders promote a harmonious work environment and strengthen relationships within the team.

How To Practice Conflict Management

Try a conflict management course to get familiar with some of the key issues that cause and prolong conflict. Try techniques and suggestions that you think might help your team.

Then, actively seek feedback from your team members, peers, and mentors. A postmortem meeting after a conflict has been resolved can be helpful for discovering what went well and what needs to be done differently next time. Honest feedback helps identify blind spots and allows you to manage conflicts even more effectively.


Emotional intelligence is an essential quality for human-centric leaders. Developing it requires commitment and practice, but it is absolutely possible. By enhancing self-awareness, cultivating empathy, building communication skills, and practicing conflict management, leaders can develop their emotional intelligence and empower their teams to thrive, resulting in increased job satisfaction, improved performance, and overall organizational success.

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For Further Reading: Books on Emotional Intelligence

  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
  • Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee
  • The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book
  • Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg and Arun Gandhi