Australia’s new Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull vowed on Monday to be a more emotionally intelligent leader.

Speaking to journalist Leigh Sales on ABC 7.30 Report, he asserted “emotional intelligence is probably the most important asset… for anyone in my line of work.”

By that he meant the ability to walk in the shoes of the people he represents, listen to their story and have the imagination to understand how they feel.

For leaders at the highest level, as well as those on the way up, emotional intelligence is fundamental to effectiveness and can be a cornerstone for their future success. Understanding and relating to people with emotional awareness demonstrates a level of empathy for people’s interests and wellbeing that translates into better results.

Empathy is still lacking in those who needs it most. With the rise of the digital global economy and the complexity leaders now face, this attribute is increasingly critical.

When University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism recently conducted a deep dive with C-Suite and senior communications executives in Fortune 500 companies, a study reported this week in Harvard Business Review, they found empathy was the leadership capability most universally endorsed. Not boldness, perseverance or toughness: empathy.

My work teaching business leaders how to be more intelligent with emotions allows them to show more empathy and care for people. Scott Nell, a Senior Manager of OD and Talent at Schneider Electric, attests this “brings higher levels of employee engagement, which translates to happy customers and greater business results at the other end”.

For Scott personally, emotional intelligence training helped him build on natural attributes of openness, empathy and receptiveness to become more resilient. “I was never a hard-nosed boss but I now have improved tolerance levels, am more resilient and the frustrations that once overwhelmed me have subsided. I have become more mindful of people and what they are experiencing at an emotional level. I’m more aware of non-verbal cues and office dynamics.”

Now, emotional intelligence is very much a part of his life – at work and at home.

I hope to see more leaders articulating the value of emotional intelligence and the positive impact they expect to have on the people, organisations and governments they lead.

So what does emotional intelligence look like in practice?

Emotional Intelligence is the intelligent use of emotions. Smart 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.

It enables people to instil confidence and belonging in others, engage and influence people across boundaries, and respond with sensitivity and care even when challenged.

People with high EI are described as “aware, authentic, empathic, expansive, resilient, empowering and centred” rather than “disconnected, guarded, insensitive, limited, temperamental, indifferent and reactive”.

With insight into themselves and others, they recognise the emotions that drive thinking and behaviour, and use that understanding to generate positive outcomes and mood. Attuned to emotions that can disrupt engagement and productivity, they are more able to convert fears and concerns into opportunity and frame challenges constructively.

While some people naturally tune into what others feel and put them at ease, the good news is that EI can be taught and developed.

You can learn more about emotional intelligence by downloading my white paper.

It examines the science, practice and business impact of emotional intelligence in the workplace, including how and why emotions influence thinking, behaviour, performance, decision-making and results and a snapshot of bottom-line results achieved across industries.

You may also be interested in learning more about the Leading with Emotional Intelligence programmes we deliver in global organisations and government departments or the advanced emotional intelligence training I offer to coaches, consultants, business leaders and human capital managers.

I explored some of the core positive psychology practices and theories you can use in coaching, leadership, organisational practice and policy. We’ll be sharing more in our upcoming white paper on positive psychology. In the mean time you can explore more positive psychology tools and techniques in our free eBook below.