Emotional intelligence is a central part of my work as a transformational leadership executive coach and practitioner. It is essential that leaders understand that the quality of their leadership corresponds with how much attention they give to their emotional intelligence. Why? Because leadership is about leading people, human beings who are unique and have different life experiences. While Emotional Intelligence is an essential core competence for senior leaders; it is just as essential emerging leaders

The cornerstone of emotional intelligence is self-awareness which allows us to notice how our bodies react to fluctuating emotions. When emotions are triggered, electro-chemical signals flow, allowing us to respond to stimuli in our environment such as threats and opportunities. How we interpret these emotions is what translates into feelings. While feelings are influenced by our emotions they are generated by thoughts. Feelings demonstrate how we choose to make sense of our emotions and what happened to bring about these emotions.

There are eight core emotions, with countless variations and nuances: joy, sadness, fear, disgust, surprise, anticipation, anger and trust.

Identifying your emotions

Emotions and feelings are so close, often many use the terms interchangeably. But there is a distinction to be made. Emotions last a short time in the body. Neuroanatomist, and spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Centre, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, says 90 seconds is all it takes to identify an emotion and allow it to dissipate while you simply notice it . But as human beings we can’t always let go of emotions. When we hang on to them,  we get stuck. This is often true of negative emotions. Think of a time when you were angry in a meeting because of what a colleague said. The emotions you experienced at the time were appropriate, however, replaying the event in your mind keeps you looped into your emotions. It can be difficult to come out of them.

In such a situation, it’s best to name the emotions and then choose what you want to do with them. Do you want to carry them the whole day? Do you want to instantly react to them or can you pause and see how best to respond so as to create a positive outcome for you. Whether you choose to respond by letting go or by confronting the colleague who angered you, the fact that you make an ‘intentional’ response puts you in a more influential position. You choose how to react as opposed to reacting in an unconscious knee-jerk way that may or may not work for you. The more self-aware we are, the more we can regulate or control how we respond to our emotions. This is what is referred to as self-regulation.

In parallel, the more self-aware we are, the more likely we are to be aware of others and the emotions they might be experiencing. When we offer empathy, it often makes those around us feel seen, heard, and appreciated. This is the gold that allows us to build stronger relationships and thus trust. The more others trust us, the more we can inspire and motivate them. This, of course, is a key competence in the workspace to motivate and inspire our teams.

It has been proven that leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence achieve outstanding results and can, more easily, navigate the complexities they encounter. They are the kinds of leaders who keep their teams together in both calm and challenging times. They are men and women who can sense the atmosphere in the room. They know what their team members are feeling and can build on it, increasing the existing relationship of trust. They are the leaders who listen first. They are the leaders who create a safe space in the working environment. How do they do that? And how can others learn to do the same?

Breathe and reframe

I believe it’s possible to learn to be such a leader. The journey starts with us being true to ourselves for our own selves. It is about owning how we feel. It is also about intentionally choosing how we respond to the fluctuations of emotions generated within us. So, if you feel anger, commit to pausing before you react to that anger. Pause and choose a reaction that will work in favor of your objectives and intentions. Of course, you might say it’s easier said than done. It is, but it is possible to do. It’s about our willingness not to let ourselves become highjacked by our emotions but rather to take back the reins and choose how and when we respond to an emotion.

One way to build our emotional intelligence is to step off the hamster wheel of our daily routine and find time to pause through the day. Keeping track of our energy is a useful way to keep track of our emotions. Negative energy drains us of energy while positive emotions increase our energy. Keeping track of your energy balance is a helpful way to monitor what is happening inside your body and inside your mind. It may be that you are perfectly fine one moment and then feel that your energy has sapped away the next. What happened? Pause and think of  what caused the loss of energy. Was it a thought you had? Was it something someone said or didn’t say? Was it something you saw? Once you name the cause, take a moment to breathe and decide with intention how you want to respond to it. Start by shaking off the emotion. Stand up, move, get a glass of water, do something to change your physical space. Reframe your thoughts. Recognize that there are multiple perspectives to look at the situation, choose the one that brings you energy. At least choose the one that gives you back your inner peace.

Emotional intelligence is a significant part of maintaining this inner peace. It’s about recognizing our values and living in integrity with them. When our values are compromised, our self-awareness will guide us in knowing what to do next. At times it takes courage to act to re-establish our inner peace. We might be called to act in a way which might cost us a position or a relationship. Nevertheless, committing to developing and listening to our emotional intelligence is the most essential step in becoming the kind of leader who inspires, serves, and moves mountains; the kind of leader who will support organizations as they navigate through ever-increasing complexities at all levels. And the good news is that emotional intelligence, in and outside the work space, can be learned, practiced, and improved for as long as we live.



We encourage you to explore the UN Emerging Leaders e-Learning  programme if you work for the United Nations and are keen to develop  your emotional intelligence skills and unleash your leadership potential. The course is also designed to help you align your leadership behaviours to the principled and visionary leadership outlined in the UN System Leadership Framework.The first 2023 edition will run from 21 February 2023  - 6 April 2023. 

Should you wish to see the testimonials of our alumni please have a look at the trailers and testimonials here, the graduation speeches from the last cohort here, read spotlight interviews here or search for #UNELE2020, #UNELE2021, #UNELE2022, #UNELEeca across social media.

For any inquiries on the upcoming editions and customized programmes for emerging leaders, please email leadershipandmanagement@unssc.org.