Can We Teach Emotional Intelligence as Part of a Leadership Development Curriculum?

Posted Thursday, August 26, 2021 by Romar Learning Solutions
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Since the 1990’s, the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) as a key leadership quality has been thoroughly researched and confirmed. Without question, highly effective leadership includes a high degree of EI, often referred to as a high emotional quotient (EQ). For learning professionals, the question then becomes: Can we teach EI as part of a leadership development curriculum? The answer to this question is not easy, but it appears to be yes and no.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

EI divides into five key skills grouped into two categories—self-management and how a leader relates to others. Let’s discuss the first group, which includes the skills involved in self-management:

1. Self-awareness

A deep understanding of moods, emotions, and drives. Leaders with a high EI aren’t afraid to admit their weaknesses, nor are they afraid to discuss them. They also have a deep understanding of the impact their emotions can have on others.

2. Self-regulation

Resisting impulses and controlling reactions. Leaders with a high EI can self-regulate because they have a high degree of self-awareness, so the first two skills are somewhat connected. In addition, they can redirect their emotions in a positive manner.

3. Motivation

The desire to be successful for the sake of achievement. Leaders who have a high EI are not driven by incentives, status, or promotions but rather by the challenge or outcome itself.

The second group includes skills involved in relating to others:

4. Empathy

Recognizing and considering the feelings of others. Leaders with a high EI appreciate the feelings of others and respect those feelings. However, they don’t always agree with the feelings, which would be sympathy.

5. Social skills

Building rapport and accomplishing tasks through collaboration and cooperation. Leaders with a high EI know how to accomplish tasks through others in a positive and collaborative way.

The ability of leaders to manage themselves and relate to others will often be the deciding factors of their teams’ success and achievement. Several studies have noted that leaders with higher EI tend to have less turnover and higher productivity, and their teams often say they have a better working environment.

The Yes and the No Answers

Let’s get back to the question of teaching EI in a leadership development curriculum. The “yes” part of the answer is that self-awareness, self-regulation, and social skills are all skills one can learn. One can’t necessarily learn motivation and empathy, but leaders can make a conscious decision to practice them if they receive valuable feedback.

A well-designed leadership development curriculum can teach all the EI skills with good reinforcement and careful intervention. Daniel Goleman, a researcher and noted author on EI, points out in the Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Leader” that you can teach these skills if you do so in a way that focuses on breaking old habits and learning new behaviors, versus the way we would teach technical information. This doesn’t traditionally happen in a classroom, which leads to the “no” part of the answer. According to Goleman, leaders with a high EI are born with a relatively high degree of empathy and motivation. Others can learn it; they just need focused learning and feedback. This type of training is best in a mentoring or coaching relationship where a trainer or senior leader with a high EI can transfer their skills to the leader.

Teaching Emotional Intelligence

If you are tasked with incorporating EI into your leadership development curriculum, consider:

  • Proven content – Many organizations and vendors have jumped on the EI bandwagon to offer EI training. A good EI program not only discusses what EI is but, more important, how to integrate and apply it in the real world. Simply telling new leaders about EI won’t help them master it. They need to practice applying it in realistic simulations and on the job while getting effective feedback.
  • Part of a process – EI isn’t something you teach in a two-hour time slot during new leader training. Developing good EI habits and behaviors requires time and practice. So make your EI training a process and not a topic.
  • Individualized training or mentoring – The skills necessary to master high EI involve deep reflection and internal decision making on the leader’s part. These types of skills and behaviors are best shared one-on-one and/or through mentoring. You can teach the foundational concepts in a workshop or virtual environment, but really mastering EI skills requires reflection and feedback on the job with the guidance of an expert.


EI can be a valuable part of a leadership development curriculum and is, without question, an important part of being a successful leader. The importance of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills is difficult to deny in today’s collaborative work environment. You can teach EI by carefully considering the instructional design and how to teach the new skills. The key is to focus not only on teaching the skills but also on how to apply them. This requires practice and effective feedback. Therefore, it’s best to teach EI as part of a blended training program that combines transitional delivery methods with a robust on-the-job component.