How to Hire Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

How to Hire Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

Do you know how emotionally intelligent your organization’s leaders are? According to a study in Industrial and Commercial Training, organizations with emotionally intelligent leaders have more engaged and satisfied employees. If that isn’t reason enough to give your employee’s EQ some thought, several other studies report that hiring emotionally intelligent leaders can improve your organization’s employment brand, talent retention and productivity. By learning how to identify candidates with high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ), you can hire more leaders who will strengthen your organization.

What is EQ, and why does it matter?

If you’ve ever worked for a brilliant person who lacked the social skills we expect to find in great leaders, you likely already understand the need for emotional intelligence in the workplace. According to Zerorisk HR, emotional intelligence is defined as “a set of competencies demonstrating the ability one has to recognize his or her behaviors, moods, and impulses, and to manage them best according to the situation.” EQ includes traits such as emotional awareness, empathy, accurate recognition of others' moods, and mood management.

A leader’s EQ can affect the workplace because it underlies his or her "people" or "relationship" skills, according to Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Leadership. Leaders who possess a high level of EQ can effectively communicate and work with customers, partners, and co-workers, which ultimately fosters a positive and productive work environment. If all of the leaders within your organization possessed a high level of emotional intelligence, it would create a strong sense of synergy among your team and empower every employee to succeed. The extraordinary communication and collaboration that EQ leaders cultivate would also enable your business to overcome various challenges and strengthen the company’s chances of reaching its full potential.

Ever since psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman conducted research and published a book titled What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters, EQ has become an important topic of discussion among organizations. In his book, Goleman reveals that emotionally intelligent leaders possess four main characteristics. By understanding these four characteristics and looking for them during your interviews, you can determine if your candidates are emotionally intelligent:


As stated in a Harvard Division of Continuing Education blog article, self-awareness is the very core of high EQ. When you are self-aware, you understand your strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and how others perceive you. You’re also confident in who you are both emotionally and physically. There are several interview questions you can ask to find out if a candidate is self-aware:

  • What are your top three strengths?
  • What are your top three weaknesses?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?

If they struggle to answer any of these questions, of if they seem unsure of themselves throughout the interview, the candidate is likely not self-aware. If they answer your questions quickly and confidently however, they could be emotionally intelligent.


According to Goleman, self-management refers to “managing ones’ internal states, impulses, and resources.” This includes effectively controlling your emotions, taking initiative to act on opportunities, and adapting to changes. Maintaining a positive attitude and striving to exceed or improve expectations are important traits as well. To determine if your candidates are self-managing, ask them situational interview questions such as:

  • Can you tell me about a time when you felt that a manager or co-worker wronged you, and what you did about it?
  • Can you give me an example of a time when you disagreed with a co-worker’s idea or decision, and what you did about it?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you took initiative at work?

Learning how your candidates handle emotionally challenging situations in the workplace will provide insight into how they manage their emotions. Also pay attention to the candidate’s body language and word choice as they answer your questions. If they seem relaxed and focused, they are likely great self-managers.

Social Awareness

Social awareness mainly deals with how people handle relationships, and how aware they are of others’ feelings, needs and concerns. Being empathetic is a critical component to being socially aware, as empathy allows us to understand and care about other’s feelings and perspectives. Goleman explains that organizational awareness (analyzing a group’s emotional currents and power relationships) and service orientation (anticipating, recognizing, and meeting customer’s needs) are two additional components of social awareness. Here are some interview questions you can ask to determine if a candidate is socially aware:

  • How would you deal with an upset co-worker or customer?
  • How can you tell whether or not your co-workers and customers feels supported?
  • What are some ways to determine whether or not your co-workers are happy and engaged at work?

If the candidate’s responses relate to being empathetic, carefully listening, and seeing the situation from the other person’s perspective, you are likely looking at an emotionally intelligent candidate. Watching how they interact with other people, as well as evaluating how attentive they are, can help you determine their level of social awareness.

Relationship Management

Goleman explains that leaders with high EQ successfully manage relationships mainly by inspiring, guiding, influencing and developing others. These leaders also initiate or manage change whenever necessary, and negotiate or resolve disagreements to maintain respect and synergy. Many recruiters interview candidates about their relationship management skills without even realizing it. Some common examples include:

  • Can you give me an example of when you helped a team member in the past?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you proposed a new process at work?
  • Can you explain a time when you settled a disagreement in the workplace?

By asking more questions like these and weighing the answers more heavily, you can increase your chances of finding an emotionally intelligent leader.

If you aren’t considering the emotional intelligence of your candidates, you could make a misstep and hire someone who isn’t emotionally prepared for the new role. Ask more interview questions that reveal a candidate’s level of EQ to help you determine whether or not they are truly qualified. By ensuring that your organization’s leaders possess a high level of emotional intelligence, you can retain more employees and empower your company to succeed. After all, wouldn’t you want to work for an emotionally intelligent and aware leader?

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