How to hire more emotionally intelligent leaders

Get tangible results from intangible skills

When Occulus is briefed on finding the right candidate for a role, we’re usually given a list of technical and financial skills the organisation is looking to fill. And there’s no denying these aspects are critical. But frequently overlooked – and equally essential – are the intangible skills that fall into the category of emotionally intelligent leadership.

Emotional intelligence (EI), which was popularised by Daniel Goleman in 1998, has evolved to encompass 12 elements:


1. Emotional self-awareness


2. Emotional self-control

3. Adaptability

4. Achievement orientation

5. Positive outlook

Social Awareness

6. Empathy

7. Organisational awareness

Relationship Management

8. Influence

9. Coach and mentor

10. Conflict management

11. Teamwork

12. Inspirational leadership

Unlike reviewing financial performance and other KPIs, these attributes of emotionally intelligent leadership can be harder to identify and recruit for. But hiring emotionally intelligent leaders can play a key role in your organisation’s success, especially when it comes to getting the best out of your people and fostering loyalty.

In fact, according to research by TalentSmart, when compared with 33 other important workplace skills, EI is the strongest predictor of performance. The research found that 90% of top performers are high in EI, compared with just 20% of bottom performers. It makes sense then, that hiring for emotional intelligence leads to improved business performance. After all, organisational culture flows from the top.

Think about when you’ve worked for someone with a negative attitude, someone who always looked to blame others, or who was quick to react with anger. Did that bring out the best of you at work? No, I’m guessing not. If leaders display this type behaviour, their team is likely to feel undervalued, unhappy and disrespected – leading to minimal effort and low levels of initiative.

As well as negative attitudes and impulsive responses, another sign of poor emotional intelligence is when, what you say and what you do don’t match up. This disconnect erodes trust, communication and relationships among your team. The good news is that EI isn’t fixed. It’s something that can be worked on and developed with intentional effort, whether that’s through self-directed coaching or formalised workplace training programs.

How to assess EI when you’re interviewing candidates

It can take time to assess EI in leadership candidates, but it’s well worth it. Some options include:

  • Role playing scenarios the candidate could face, which provides insight into how a candidate is likely to apply their emotional intelligence
  • Asking for historical examples of situations the candidate has faced and how those situations were resolved. For example: Can you give me an achievement that shows how you have coached and mentored someone in your team and how this benefited the organisation? What do you believe you need to learn to become an inspirational leader?
  • Using a formal assessment tool to benchmark candidates against each other.
  • Reference checks to specifically assess EI levels through questions such as: Can you please give me an example of when the candidate showed emotional self-control and how that benefited the situation? Would you describe the candidate as having a positive or negative outlook on solutions development? Please give me an example. Can you give an example of how the candidate influences stakeholders when delivering change? Is the candidate adaptable in high stress situations?

Next time you’re hiring leaders, remember the impact EI can have on team performance and financial results. Candidates who tick the boxes on these “intangible skills” will have an extremely tangible impact on your bottom line.

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