Leaders, coaches, athletes, teachers, parents, prime ministers – humans from all walks of life, can benefit from learning more about emotions. Understanding our emotions can lead to better outcomes for ourselves and others. The intelligent use of emotions is a cornerstone of peak performance.

By nature, we are emotional and social creatures. Emotions are data, they are information, and they are trying to tell us something. They can influence our decisions, behaviour, and performance. Much of our success depends on our capacity to perceive, understand, use, and manage emotions in ourselves and others. Even if your work doesn’t involve dealing directly with people, we make better decisions and work more effectively when we are aware of our emotional state.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EI)?

An emotion occurs when there are certain biological, experiential, and cognitive states that all coincide.

Elements of emotional intelligence have been around for a long time – if you go back to writings from ancient Greece or Buddhist literature, you will find aspects of EI, the focus on relationships and our ability to self-regulate and improve our social interactions.

Thorndike, a noted psychologist, recognised what he called “Social Intelligence” in the 1920s, which he described as “the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls, to act wisely in human relations.”

As a stand-alone concept, intelligence was popularised in the 1940s, referred to as IQ (intelligence quotient). The late American psychologist, David Wechsler, claimed that intelligence is the “global capacity of an individual to think rationally, act purposefully, and deal effectively with their environment” (Wechsler, 1944).

The term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was first coined in 1990 by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey and popularised by psychologist Daniel Goleman.

Fast forward 30 years, and many would argue that EI is more important than IQ as it helps us integrate our emotions and thought processes leading to intelligent choices. We now know from extensive research in neuroscience that emotions play a critical role in influencing and guiding our thinking and behaviour.

When our pre-frontal (thinking) cortex and limbic (emotional) system are not communicating effectively, we may behave emotionally rather than intelligently, lose our focus, or make logical assessments without considering the emotional implications of our behaviour. Emotional Intelligence is about harnessing these two aspects to ensure we manage our emotions rather than allowing our emotions to manage us.

The model of Emotional Intelligence has four abilities:

  1. Perceiving emotions
  2. Using emotions
  3. Understanding emotions
  4. Managing emotions

Developed by Jack Mayer, Peter Salovey and David Caruso

Learning to use emotions intelligently empowers us to respond effectively rather than reactively. By increasing our range of strategies, we can achieve more positive outcomes and improve our performance.

Emotional Intelligence and Sport

Sport can be an emotional experience, and competitive sport is an emotion-laden environment. Studies have shown that high EI is associated with better sports performance. We can look to sport to understand the principles of EI as when considering peak performance in elite sports competitions; we can easily see the link between particular states of mind and success.

Emotionally intelligent people can get themselves into the appropriate emotional states for the demands of the given situation, whether it be consistent training or getting psyched up for intense competition.

Emotions influence perception, cognition, neurophysiology, motivation, behaviour, motor expression, feelings and decisions, in turn facilitating or debilitating peak performance.

We can use the example of team sport to see how EI plays into group environments. Team performance results from relationships and interactions, and emotions significantly influence these. Athletes have to be aware of the feelings of other members (e.g., teammates, coaching staff, opponents, officials, fans and sports administrators). They must communicate and work together to reach their best performance. They must learn to recognise their emotions and ideal performance states to control their energy level to achieve optimal performance within the team dynamic.

For a leader going into a critical negotiation or delivering an important presentation, the same level of focus may be required. For a manager to effectively lead their team under pressure, similar EI awareness and skills are needed in high-performance team sports.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

The intelligent use of emotions can improve our capacity to work well with others, engage with our jobs, manage stress, handle conflict, and make fast and effective decisions – essential skills in today’s fast-paced world.

Two decades of scientific and business research shows the overwhelming value of EI for leaders, salespeople, and anyone whose job involves influencing and engaging people; it is a critical tool in business. EI has twice the power of IQ to predict high performance (Mount, G 2006).

“We cannot check our emotions at the door because emotion and thought are linked—they cannot, and should not, be separated.” – David Caruso –

When a leader allows the emotional stresses of the day to build up unchecked – they are less able to show up in the right mental and emotional state when it counts.

Emotions contain data about ourselves, other people and the world around us. It is the ability to discriminate among them in any situation requiring EI. Remaining open to feelings gives us valuable early data points that help us think and act more intelligently. Leaders set the tone in their organisation.

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.” – Daniel Goleman

Proactive and Reactive Strategies

Both proactive and reactive strategies are essential. Learning to regulate your emotions comes with awareness and practice. Start to become familiar with what your triggers may be.

Proactive emotional intelligence strategies may include getting regular exercise to let off steam and keep our brain and body healthy or practising mindfulness or wellbeing activities regularly to increase the number of positive emotions we experience.

A reactive strategy may be something you rehearse ahead of time then use in the moment to manage negative emotions. A simple breathing ritual can help you in a meeting when you feel yourself getting frustrated and know you need to bite your tongue. Sitting on your hands or changing your posture can change how you feel. Focusing on something else can reduce the impact of that emotion and give your brain time to think of a better way to respond.

Regardless of the strategies in your tool bag, we know that EI can be developed over time and is a winning approach for everyone.

Ready to Learn More?

To learn more about EI and the MSCEIT tool, you can download our MSCEIT accreditation course guide here.

If you would like to discuss running emotional intelligence training within your organisation, please contact us.

Download our free whitepaper Emotional Intelligence at work here.


To learn more, join Learn with Sue for eBooks on 7 Ways to Apply Positive Psychology, 10 Brain-Friendly Habits and How to Lead with the Brain at Work. Plus a range of tools to help yourself and others, including questionnaires, values cards, posters and more.