Why Emotional Intelligence is Crucial
for HR Professionals in Leadership Roles

See also: Careers in Business

Human resources is built on human-centric values to drive organizational achievement. HR leaders must maintain high emotional intelligence to identify "people" goals and create processes and products around their needs.

A company led by emotionally sound HR leaders is like a well-oiled machine — innovative, collaborative and productive. Let's examine the importance of empathy and emotional self-regulation, and how HR professionals can develop and use these essential skills in leadership positions.

4 Components of Emotional Intelligence

The cornerstones of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Mastery of these components is essential to effective oversight, from spearheading change to identifying talent.

  1. Self-awareness: Having a keen understanding of one's strengths, weaknesses, boundaries and emotional reactions to various situations and crises.

  2. Self-management: Upholding healthy control over one's emotions, behaviors and actions to lead others.

  3. Social awareness: Tapping into one's empathy — sharing in others' feelings — to meet people's needs and concerns.

  4. Relationship management: The ability to develop cohesive working relationships, resolve conflicts and communicate effectively.

According to the Niagara Institute, only 22% of 155,000 leaders maintain emotional intelligence — a low number amid predictions the demand for these skills will increase by 26% by 2030.

Why HR Leaders Need Emotional Intelligence

Emotionally intelligent HR professionals understand their role in generating a corporate culture based on trust and communication. Nowadays, employees emphasize wanting their voices heard and their contributions recognized and valued. Doing so boosts job satisfaction and encourages more workers to stay aboard.

HR managers with emotional intelligence can better facilitate more inclusive and innovative teams. For example, leaders who can self-regulate their emotions demonstrate to others how to embody the expected attitudes and behaviors at work. They are also more capable of diffusing their frustrations before taking it out on employees.

Likewise, emotionally intelligent HR professionals have a knack for transparency, building relationships and empowering workers to be more productive and engaged. Social awareness also plays a role in fostering greater diversity, equality and inclusion. HR leaders should recognize how inclusivity promotes creativity and collaboration.

Women, in particular, often have caregiving responsibilities outside of work. As such, empathetic HR managers aim to understand their employees' need for flexibility and offer support where needed. Their ability to interact with others and communicate respectfully is a strength, especially in remote work environments.

Corporate leadership has had to navigate the changing professional landscape since the COVID-19 pandemic. Following two years of pandemic lockdowns, 20% of remote workers report greater happiness than their office-based counterparts.

Emotionally intelligent HR specialists have led these changes effectively to ensure optimal performance and productivity regardless of where teams are distributed.

How HR Leaders Can Use Emotional Intelligence

Not everyone can say they have emotional intelligence. HR leaders who have developed these skills should deploy them across the organization. There are several ways HR specialists can do this, such as the following:

  • Create initiatives and policies to address burnout and stress while promoting a better work-life balance.

  • Deliver physical wellness and mental health programs, including nutritional counseling, mindfulness training, fitness classes and therapeutic services.

  • Clearly communicate change management initiatives, ensuring all employees understand the reasons for changes related to the company's goals.

  • Solicit feedback from employees on management and change processes.

  • Practice the 80/20 rule in which HR leaders speak only 20% of the time, allowing employees to talk 80% of the time.

  • Assist individual employees in attaining their professional goals and development within the company.

  • Celebrate employee milestones and contributions with team members.

Emotional intelligence gives HR leadership a different perspective on workplace structures and operations. When something is awry, they demonstrate they care by putting teams first. For example, they might create a new policy encouraging time off to decompress or tend to family members without fearing losing their jobs.

These efforts make a difference in attracting a broad talent pool and creating a work environment where people are proud to contribute.

Developing Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Some people are born with an innate empathy — others must work harder to develop it. However, gaining a working knowledge of emotional intelligence to drive organizational success is possible.

Learn Your Own Emotions

You must decipher your emotions before meeting other people's emotions with empathy. Journaling is a practical tool to understand your feelings and what triggers them. It is also an excellent way to reflect on your reactions to situations and set self-regulating goals. As a result, you can prevent outbursts of anger and frustration.

Take Personality Assessments

Personality and emotional intelligence quizzes provide insight into one's strengths, tendencies and triggers. Better yet, have your entire team take an assessment with you. HR managers can better learn how to engage with team members more effectively based on each person's behaviors.

Practice Mindfulness Techniques

Different mindfulness techniques can help you build up your emotional intelligence. Spend five minutes each morning with your eyes closed and envision your compassion toward others — starting with yourself, then your closest family and friends and finally your co-workers.

Another way to approach mindfulness is to visualize being in a co-worker or employee's shoes. Imagine what they have going on outside of work and how they might feel. According to one study, all it takes is a 10-minute mindfulness activity to improve self-compassion and build your empathic muscle.

Look for Resources

Several books, articles, online resources and videos discuss how to foster emotional intelligence. HR professionals in leadership roles should embrace ongoing learning to gain these essential workplace skills. Additionally, there may be online or in-person training workshops to practice the four components of emotional intelligence.

Recognize Emotions

Recognizing different emotional states is another intentional practice in which you name feelings you or your employees are experiencing. Keep a list of emotions to reference as you learn them. This is most practical for developing a deeper awareness of those around you.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

Create a Positive Workplace with Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is not the easiest skill to learn, but HR leaders who develop it reap the rewards of a happier, more efficient workplace. Showing empathy and support for employees' well-being should never be put on the back burner. Effective leadership fosters positivity, creativity and drive.

About the Author

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.