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The Making of an Emotionally Intelligent Boss: What’s your’s Like?

Updated on June 16, 2013
What is an emotionally intelligent boss?
What is an emotionally intelligent boss? | Source

An emotionally intelligent boss is not perfect, yet he or she comes pretty close when their behavior is driven by emotional intelligent competencies. The emotionally intelligent boss demonstrates competency in four domains as explained in the book Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee (2002). These four domains are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Within these four domains are core competencies that, when applied, incites a boss to behave with emotional intelligence in everyday situations and especially during times of crisis.

Bosses Competent at Self-Awareness & Self-Management

The first two domains, self-awareness and self-management, focus on developing our personal competence or how we manage ourselves. Some of the core competencies within these two domains include self-confidence and optimism.

A boss who has mastered self-awareness is fully cognizant of his or her strengths as well as their weaknesses. This ability promotes being proactive in making behavioral adjustments before saying or doing something damaging. Self-aware bosses know their triggers and work hard to defuse a situation from getting out of control. These bosses know their limits.

The boss who has mastered self-management tends to be optimistic even in difficult or dire situations. They lead by example because they “practice what they preach” and they don’t expect others to do what he or she wouldn’t do. These bosses demonstrate adaptability, are high achievers, and are skilled at assessing situations to seize opportunities.

Bosses Competent at Social-Awareness & Relationship Management

The third and fourth domains, social awareness and relationship management, focus on social competence or how we manage relationships. Core competencies include empathy, developing others, teamwork and collaboration.

Bosses who demonstrate social awareness understand and respect people’s differences in personality and ability. They have developed a keen ability to interact or network with people at all levels of an organization. These bosses come across to others as genuine and real.

Bosses who have developed their relationship management abilities are noted motivating others. They ask for and listen to feedback and take appropriate action based on the feedback. They are skilled at resolving disagreements and cultivating teamwork.

All four domains and competencies innately drive the emotionally intelligent boss. The emotionally intelligent (EI) boss regularly gives you feedback of your job performance in a manner that is motivating and positive. The EI boss communicates effectively in one-on-one and group situations. They are honest. Most of all, your gut tells you when you have a genuine EI boss.

What Emotionally UNintelligent Bosses Look Like

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The Unintelligent Boss

However, most of us have had to deal at one time or another with the emotionally UNintelligent boss. Characteristics of this boss include yelling, belittling (they think this will motivate you), focusing on short-term results, management-by-fear (this will keep you in-line), and many have an ego that requires constant stroking. These characteristics represent a small percentage of how an emotionally UNintelligent boss acts.

Some bosses start out with good intentions, but if that boss is emotionally unintelligent those good intentions often go bad. The boss with high performance standards, for example, may become obsessive at achieving unrealistic performance standards that everyone fails except the boss. This is the boss that complains he’s got the worst employees and has to constantly “babysit” them.

Then there is the boss that believes the only way to lead people is to coerce, threaten, or humiliate their employees. This type of unintelligent boss does acknowledge good performance but would rather criticize employees to “keep them inline.” These bosses have to constantly deal with low morale issues and high turnover.

Can Bad Bosses Be Made Better?

The good news is yes! According to Goleman:

“Although people may differ in the initial level of their natural abilities, everyone can learn to improve, no matter where he or she starts out.”

This mean that any emotionally unintelligent bosses can learn to develop or improve the competencies needed to become emotionally intelligent. How is this possible?

Goleman explains, “Skills based in the limbic areas, research shows, are best learned through motivation, extended practice, and feedback.” In other words, through extensive training, an emotionally unintelligent boss can implement an action plan to develop the skills to become emotionally intelligent.

What Has Been Your Experience?

Based on the brief descriptions of an emotionally intelligent and an UNintelligent boss, tell us what you have experience. What are some of the characteristics you’ve observed? How have you dealt with the UNintelligent boss? By sharing your experiences, it will help me continue my research on emotional intelligence at work. Thanks for sharing!

What type of boss have you worked with?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My one boss needs constant ego stroking. She's on every committee under the sun, overextends herself and complains that she has to be the one to do it all. She makes "team" decisions but they are really her decisions and often times they do not make any sense to any one else. If you question her, you are shunned to the ground, belittled and berated. She will tell you that you are next to nothing compared to her experienced self. She is verbally savvy and will drag your name through the mud for her benefit.

      My other boss is self-reflective but also has a switch. If you catch her at a stressful moment, she will derail you and make you seem close to insignificant. She will say things like you are the "bottom of the barrel" and you should keep your head down, mouth shut and do as she says. She makes you fear her and thrives off the fear. Yet she loves you when you are working your butt off for her benefit. She wants you to be her spy.

      Unfortunately the two above are in conflict and I am stuck in the middle. Urgh.

    • Makiwa profile image

      Judy Witt 

      9 years ago from Australia

      My boss tries to impress her peers by grabbing and running with snippits of information that she not only does not understand but does not ask questions. She then yells at everyone because she looks like an idiot. Chastises people in front of others because quote 'I have to be seen to be fixing the problem'. Throws tantrims when things go wrong 'Leave me alone, I wish everyone would leave me alone' while swiping everything off her desk onto the floor. Realising that she will look a fool in the morning because of a bad reaction to a situation - she panics. Goes to work at 3 am, arguing with security to get in the building so ahe can remove notes on a whiteboard before anyone else gets to work. She is unstable as far as I am concerned but the guys up in the ivory tower do not see the day to day irrational behavour.


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