Primal Leadership: developing emotional intelligence and making it work for you.

There is a consensus, in the Leadership and Management industry, that there are a number of different ways of leading, each with their own various strengths and weaknesses. Many of these styles are transactional – finding ways of connecting people with the higher goals of the company, or connecting with an employee’s motivation and utilising that as a tool for productivity. The management and leadership styles of the previous century, however, are  starting to dwindle as a new style of corporate leadership emerges and proves its worth.

In increasing numbers, leadership coaching and development literature is emphasising the value of emotional intelligence on the effectiveness of leadership in the workplace.

Emotional intelligence is the quality to recognise and appropriately handle one’s own emotions, and those of others. In a corporate setting, it is about leaders being emotionally aware of their own internal world and the way that it impacts their interactions with peers and employees.

Daniel Goleman, one of the leading voices for Emotional Intelligence in leadership, talks extensively about the value of meditation and intentionality as a crucial part of an outstanding leader’s repertoire of holistic health. In the process of meditating and reflecting – of being still, one places oneself in a position of internal honesty – allowing personal vulnerability and the space to probe one’s own intentions and emotions is an enormous step towards self-control, transparency and empathy in the general day-to-day of workplace interactions.

Beginning the process of developing emotional intelligence is simple – it requires a commitment to regularly spend a small amount of time going slow. Simple, but not easy.

Here are a few useful steps to help you develop you own emotional intelligence:

Slow down and feel your feelings.

Becoming aware of your feelings is difficult – life is busy and noisy. Set a timer for a few points during your day, and make the space to take a few deep breaths and turn your attention inwards: how are you feeling? How is that emotion interacting with your physical body? Just spending two minutes doing a ‘check up’ a couple of times a day increases your ongoing awareness of your internal life.

Find a way to release your negative emotions.

Psychologists and theologians share their opinions about negative emotions: like stones, negative emotions weigh us down and impair our ability to see clearly. The discipline of radical acceptance is an excellent tool to manage negative emotions: Linehan talks about the benefit of holding the thought for a moment, but responding with an accepting statement, such as “this is what it is” and allowing the thoughts and feelings to pass. Waiting for the wave of immediate emotion to pass allows us to more objectively deal with the immediate situation. The more you practice ‘riding the wave’, the more readily you can do it, and the more immediately present you are able to become.

Find a trusted companion to communicate honestly with.

Building a vulnerable, honest relationship with a trusted companion is vital: it creates a specific context in which one can express and verbally process the challenges and emotional burdens one carries, and consequently limits the impact that those challenges have on colleagues and professional relationships.

Observe your internal reactions and your external responses to others.

Its easy to slip into defence mode when we are stressed: we default quickly to judgement in an instinctive attempt to boost our own confidence, but taking a moment to intentionally focus on the emotion behind the response provides an opportunity to diffuse the emotional charge. Begin your learning by taking stock at the end of the day: reflect back on a difficult emotional moment, and allow yourself the space to observe how it felt and how you reacted. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself ‘why?’ and be determined to learn from your own internal observation.


After implementing some of these strategies, with the determination to grow your own emotional intelligence, take some time to observe the ways in which your interactions with employees or colleagues has shifted. Observe how your approach to conflict management has developed or empathy and compassion has emerged. Be encouraged! Growing your emotional intelligence is a valuable exercise and will have positive impact on your professional – and personal – relationship dynamics.


(for more information on Radical Acceptance, check out Linehan, M. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy of Borderline Personality DisorderNew York: The Guilford Press, 1993. )