Work Smarter – Not Harder

Why Emotional Intelligence is Essential for Leadership in the 21st Century

Emotional Intelligence, also known as Emotional Quotient (EQ), is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. It is a critical component of leadership in the 21st century as it enables leaders to navigate complex relationships and make well-informed decisions.

In this ever-evolving 21st century world that is built on international teams, EQ is key to becoming a thriving leader. Those with higher EQ are better equipped at managing themselves in addition to their teams; they’re more able to maneuver change, hold tough talks and provide constructive feedback that leads them forward. If you want success as a leader now and in the future then mastering EQ should be nonnegotiable!

Why is Emotional Intelligence more important in the 21st century than ever before

EQ is a crucial asset in today’s fast-paced and information-rich world enabling leaders to make effective decisions and lead diverse teams effectively. Leaders with emotional intelligence can navigate the complex environment with clarity, making them stand out.

A few reasons to explain why EQ is more relevant to the 21st century below..

Emotional Quotient of a leader

1. The world is more connected than ever before

In this era of rapid technological advancement, modern teams are becoming increasingly diverse and complex with teams distributed across geographical boundaries and different time zones. To successfully lead such a team requires a leader to possess high emotional intelligence in order to construct meaningful connections regardless of the distance between people.

As more decisions are made with data & algorithms, an appreciation of emotional intelligence will enable leaders to comprehend how different people respond differently in regards to various circumstances. Emotional intelligence allows leaders not only understand their team better but also motivates them accordingly - thus making an effective leader even more efficient.

2. The workplace is changing

Up until the early 21st century, the management styles didn’t need much evolution. But since then, there has been a shift towards less traditional hierarchies and more collaborative work environments. This is where emotional intelligence can make a huge difference. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are better able to manage teams and guide them through this change.

As the economy shifts away from traditional jobs, a greater emphasis is being placed on collaboration among employees.Their career aspirations are different from their parents or the generations that came before them. The once-popular ‘command & control’ style of management has waned in influence, and emotional intelligence now occupies an integral position in successful operations.

3. We’re living in an age of anxiety

In the current era of anxiety, comprehending and controlling our emotions is paramount. The incessant influx of news and social media can leave us feeling overwhelmed; however, with improved techniques for managing emotion, we are able to remain tranquil in spite of it all.

Reorganizations, transformations and similar upheavals can cause stress and anxiety, but emotionally intelligent leaders possess the ability to help their teams navigate such difficult waters. By understanding how people think and feel, they can help to create an atmosphere of safety and clarity when there is chaos.

4. Technology is changing the way we interact with each other

The common workplace of the 20th century was centered around face-to-face interactions. People went to their workplace every day and met with their colleagues. They had lunch & coffee together. Covid changed all that, and we have a new normal. In addition technologies like IoT, AI, Blockchain are quickly eliminating industries and creating new ones overnight.

This change requires leaders to be able to navigate communication with their teams via various digital platforms and adapt their approach. Leaders must be able to rely on their emotional intelligence to create meaningful connections through these digital mediums. They must be able to convey the same level of care and understanding as they would in a face-to-face setting.

Leaders need a new ‘Digital Emotional Intelligence’ to guide them in this new landscape.

5. We’re facing new challenges as a society

As the latest ’trends’ such as ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance), DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), anti-racism, sustainability and more become increasingly important to businesses, leaders must be able to understand the complexities of these issues and create genuine connections with their teams to foster the right environment for progress.

The topics of the 21st century are usually more nuanced and complex than before, requiring leaders to be deeply sensitive and emotionally intelligent in order to be successful. By understanding the needs of their teams and guiding them through these issues with care, they can build a strong sense of team morale and promote a healthier workplace.

6. Emotional Intelligence cannot be automated

Every day is a different day in the 21st century. The workplace leaders more or less did the same thing throughout their careers until the early 21st century, but times have changed. AI and other technologies are making jobs and industries obsolete at a pace never seen before. And it will only get worse with time.

That’s why emotional intelligence is becoming so vital in the workplace. It can’t be automated, and it won’t be replaced by machines. It requires a human touch, and it’s something that only leaders with an advanced emotional intelligence can provide. 

While being emotionally intelligent helps their team, it also helps the individuals stay relevant in the times of change.

How to develop emotional intelligence for the 21st century workplace?


1. Know Yourself & learn to manage your emotions

Begin the journey of cultivating emotional intelligence by becoming aware of yourself. Notice your emotions and how they influence you in different scenarios. Identify what sparks off a reaction from you, so as to help keep your feelings in check instead of letting it take control over you. This self-awareness will provide greater control over one’s emotions, enabling them to make decisions that are more sensible than being driven by their impulses alone.

In practical terms, it might mean preparing yourself for the worst-case scenario while going into a difficult meeting and then making sure that you have a plan of action in place. You should also anticipate any potential challenges and prepare yourself to confront them with a more level-headed approach. 

You can also keep a journal to record your observations and self-reflections. There are many apps available to help you do it without too much effort.

2. Be Aware of Others

The second step in building better relationships and becoming a more effective communicator is recognizing the emotions of those around you. Being able to pick up on how others might feel or comprehending what life looks like from their point-of-view will allow for improved understanding between people, ultimately leading to healthier communication and happier interpersonal ties.

For example, if one of your colleagues is feeling down and you sense that, a good leader would take the time to inquire about it. By doing so, they are not only creating a more open and trusting environment but also demonstrating empathy.

3. Practice Active Listening

Listening is an integral part of successful communication; it involves more than just hearing what the other person has said. It necessitates being mindful to pick up on the emotion behind words, and using this knowledge to effectively adjust one’s response. Unfortunately, these days our attention is so often divided that staying present and engaged in conversations can become a difficult task.

Active listening also involves reflecting and responding in a way that is understood by the other person. This means restating what they have said in your own words, as this will help to ensure that you have truly grasped their feelings and intentions.

Avoid digital distractions, be present and practice the active listening skill to hone one’s ability in this area. In the era of remote working, show the other person you are there with them through your presence and active engagement.

4. Seek Feedback & be responsive to it

Feedback is a critical component in developing emotional intelligence, as it can provide an indication of how others perceive your behavior. We are constantly wrapped in our own thoughts, we seldom have the opportunity to know what others think of us. Most gossip about you will never reach you, so you’ll have to make an effort to know other people’s perception of you.

Not to forget, the simple act of asking for feedback can send a message to others that you are open and receptive to criticism. This can help build trust, create stronger relationships and prevent misunderstandings in the future.

When receiving feedback, try to stay open-minded to it and be prepared to take constructive criticism. In order to respond effectively, it is important to ask questions that will help you understand the situation better, and have a better sense of what needs to be improved upon.

5. Be resilient

Trying to develop your EQ is a hard journey. Being resilient means bouncing back from setbacks and learning from your mistakes as you travel on this journey. It also means having the strength to keep going even when things are tough. 

To cultivate greater resilience, have a support system in place. This can include close friends, family members or even mentors.

Additionally, having a strong sense of self-confidence and believing in your own capabilities are key components that will help you to become more resilient.

Finally, it’s important to practice self-care and take the necessary steps to look after your physical and mental health. Whether it is going out for a walk, engaging in mindfulness activities or talking to a close friend, these practices will help you stay resilient during difficult times. 

The challenges that come with being an emotionally intelligent leader


Emotional intelligence is an essential aspect of leadership, but it can also be demanding and bring its own set of challenges. 

1. Mental Drain

Developing and utilizing emotional intelligence is mentally draining. Emotionally intelligent leaders must be constantly aware of their own emotions, as well as those of their team members, in order to effectively respond and lead. This level of mental focus and effort can lead to feelings of exhaustion and burnout, especially if the leader is not taking care of their own well-being.

It is like being the doctor in-charge of the entire hospital, doing too much of doctoring might make you a patient yourself. 

2. Problem Solving Overload

Leaders with strong emotional intelligence may find themselves getting involved in problems that are not for theirs to solve. Leadership attracts followership even if you do not have a formal role, and with it comes added responsibilities. You might find yourself being approached by colleagues who want your advice or mentorship.

Be supportive and help when you can. The more good you do for your colleagues, the more good you do for yourself.

However, while being supportive is important, leaders must also be mindful of their own boundaries and responsibilities.

3. Need to recharge more often

High level of mental and emotional effort is required to improve emotional intelligence. Leaders must prioritize self-care and take time to recharge to cope with the challenge. For instance, leaders might benefit from setting aside time for self-reflection or taking breaks throughout the day to recharge and maintain their emotional stability.

While developing high EQ is a necessity, it can be difficult to find the time for these activities when dealing with a busy work schedule. It is important for leaders to make self-care a priority and create opportunities for themselves to recharge. 

4. Difficulty gauging effectiveness

Measuring emotional intelligence is tricky because it relies heavily on relationships and trust. Specifically, gauging how much team morale has enhanced or if a leader’s connections with their colleagues have grown can be difficult to quantify. Hence, emotionally intelligent leaders may experience difficulty in determining the level of success they are achieving in their leadership roles.

5. Having to stay calm

Leaders with high EQ tend to be the adults in the room when it comes to emotional situations. They must choose to stay calm and composed in the face of stress or conflict. Choosing to shut and listen when you want to explode and make your point is not easy.

With high emotional intelligence, comes the pain of applying self restraint even when you don’t want to.

Wrap Up

The era of chaos and change, emotional intelligence is the ‘cutting-edge’ skill of the 21st century. With strong emotional intelligence skills, you will be able to build better relationships at work, foster trust among your team members, manage difficult situations more effectively, and ultimately become a successful leader in any organization.

Emotional intelligence is an essential component of leadership, but it can also come with its own set of challenges. It is important for emotionally intelligent leaders to practice self-care, set boundaries, and manage their own emotions in order to stay resilient and successful.

By understanding the importance of emotional intelligence and taking steps to cultivate these skills, you will be on your way to becoming an emotionally intelligent leader.

It might be the one thing that sets you apart in the 21st century.


Ilam Padmanabhan
Ilam Padmanabhan is a veteran in the Tech/Financial services industry. He’s passionate about technologies that shape our future. He writes at


Also Interesting

6 Steps to Launch Your Freelancing Career

Starting as a freelancer? Why not? Building a successful freelancing career is easier than it seems — just follow the steps below. Freelancing on the side is a great way to make a little extra cash or pursue a hobby.


Online Invoice Generator – Way To A Successful Small Business

7 Ways An Online Invoice Generator Can Bootstrap Your Way To A Successful Business Whether you’re a small business, an operating freelancer or an aspiring startup owner, you’ll know that sometimes the best progress you can make is simply starting.

Freelancer Invoice & Estimate Invoices Small Business

What are the challenges small businesses facing today?

The accounting software company Xero last month had a booth at the Business Show in London. The event was stimulating as it showcased the latest ideas and technologies. With so many start-ups popping up in and around the capital in the present day, Xero has become particularly interested in what the challenges are that small businesses like these are facing.


Its All in the Cloud…

Two days in May 350 exhibitors, 250 seminars and 140 master classes could define your business’ future. Visiting Business Show in London we saw a phenomenal level of insight, knowledge and education passionately delivered by eminent leaders of the business world.


3 Creativity-Boosters To Make Your Business Succeed

What do Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet have in common? They are rich, yes. But how did they get there? Hard work? Sure. Determination? Probably. Luck? Maybe. But most of all: they use creativity as a business tool.

Business Management Projects

How Project Management Tools Bring End to Chaos at Work

How do you know you are working in barely managed chaos? Maybe you find yourself frazzled because of the number of projects on the go or your inbox being overflowed with client files or maybe you have to chase clients for replies.


One tool, everything under control

No credit card required. Cancel anytime.