Emotional Intelligence in HR Leadership and Why It

Emotional Intelligence in HR Leadership and Why It's Important

by Lisa Odalen PHR, SHRM-CP, on February 29, 2024

Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage emotions in a positive way to decrease stress, be self-aware, problem-solve, and effectively communicate.

Leaders who have strong emotional intelligence can create a comfortable work environment for their employees and are able to use their leadership skills to focus on business goals.

Below, we discuss why emotional intelligence is a crucial part of HR leadership, and strategies to help develop your emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Harvard Business School defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to understand and manage your emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.” First coined in 1990, emotional intelligence is now considered a must-have skill in leadership. The role of emotional intelligence in leadership is crucial to creating boundaries and relationships with your employees. Strong emotional intelligence allows you to stay calm, effectively communicate, and quickly resolve any issues that arise.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Critical for HR Leaders?

As a human resources professional, it is essential to understand people. You may know the phrase, “Keep your work life and personal life separate.” While that may be good in theory, it is nearly impossible to have no emotion when you spend 40 hours a week dedicated to your job. Emotions will arise, and you need to possess the power to de-escalate any situation.
As an HR leader, you are the voice for your team within the company. Studies show that practicing emotional intelligence improves an employee's performance. Having an open space for your employees to voice their concerns and opinions can help improve morale, which leads to higher job satisfaction and less employee turnover.
Great leaders lead by example, and they use their emotional intelligence to make their decisions. They make thoughtful business decisions, stay calm under pressure, listen as much as they speak, and use constructive criticism as a learning opportunity. These skills enhance business culture and influences employees to follow suit.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence Within Your Culture

Emotional intelligence may not come naturally to everyone. Whether you feel that you are very self-aware or have room to improve, this skill is worth taking the time to continue developing. It can help your culture shift by supporting colleagues and fostering a supportive environment. Engagement and retention provide higher employee engagement, retention, and job satisfaction. Emotional Intelligence aligns to conform to many different environments of workers. Whether it’s in the office, hybrid, or remote work challenges, it gives you the understanding of managing roles and different types of work environments to motivate and drive success.
 Emotional intelligence can be broken down into four key components. By incorporating daily practices of each of these, you can improve your emotional intelligence and use that to become a better leader. Below is a list of the four things that make up emotional intelligence, and practices you can use to further develop this strength.


Self-awareness is the ability to be conscious of your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. You can analyze how you handle situations by taking a step back and viewing your strengths, weaknesses, processes, and values. This personal reflection allows you to manage your stress, build relationships, and make rational decisions.
You can increase your self-awareness by reflecting on your values and understanding why you choose to do one thing over another in specific situations.


Self-management allows you to remain in control of a situation and make clear decisions. Being overwhelmed can lead to rash choices that can cause stress to you and your team. Use your self-awareness to understand how you are feeling in the moment before making your next move.
Practice self-management by taking time to solve complex challenges. Try looking at situations from alternative angles to gather a complete understanding. Practice waiting a few seconds before speaking to ensure your words are appropriate for the situation.

Social Awareness

As a leader, it is important to develop relationships with your team. Knowing how each of them works and what motivates each person can create a positive work environment. Social awareness ties closely to empathy, which allows you to recognize others' emotions. Practicing empathy allows you to support your team and improve individual performance.
You can enhance social awareness by active listening. Actively practicing empathy and compassion can help you understand what makes each person different and how they differ from you. Practice reading facial expressions and looking for cues in conversations.

Relationship Management

Proper relationship management requires the ability to influence as well as resolve issues as they arise. It is crucial not to allow any conflict to go unaddressed. Conflict can lead to a loss of employee morale and be an emotional drain. It is essential to have hard conversations with your team when needed and help them work through daily conflict with ease.
Practicing gratitude and expressing your emotions can allow you to improve your relationship management skills. Always explain your thought process to others and be open to opinions from your team and why they made their decisions.
Your leadership style can have an influence over your employees’ day-to-day, so it’s important to be sure they feel heard and seen to create a positive environment. No matter your level of emotional intelligence, daily practice in this skill can help you succeed in your role as an HR leader.

Balancing Your Emotional Intelligence

The more EI competencies you build into your leadership style the better. It is important to strengthen this area within your leadership skills, but not let it overcome your leadership. Continue to be decisive, work with integrity, be creative, flexible, positive, constructively communicate, build relationships, solve problems, teach, and mentor. Align your leadership methods with your business goals. It's not all about managing difficult interactions or performance issues but balancing your leadership skills. Your leadership best practices on making decisions should align with your business goals, compliance, and policies.  Managing overall performance management or employee relations concerns should always stay consistent.
Lisa Odalen PHR, SHRM-CP

Lisa is currently the Director of Relationship Management and Human Resources for LandrumHR. She has worked in strategic human resource development and change management with more than twenty years of experience in the Professional Employment Organization (PEO) industry. Lisa specializes in partnering with organizations for improved employee engagement, culture centricity, internal collaboration and strong people leadership. Lisa’s relationship management and client partnerships focus on aligning business objectives to maximize overall profitability. Lisa believes "If your people engagement is fostered and nurtured within your culture internally, this will drive your external results."

View more blogs by Lisa Odalen PHR, SHRM-CP