Use Emotional Intelligence to Get More From Your Team

What role does emotional intelligence play in managing a team?

James Tew
5 min readFeb 8, 2021


We often talk about leaders and their natural ability to lead. The best leaders are those with a knack for the work. I think that is bullshit. When it comes to leading people and not just “doing the job”, emotional intelligence is how the best managers lead.

I received a text late in the afternoon “Hey, I’m off to put my dog down. Just wanted to keep you in the loop”.

Dogs are better than cats. That’s a fact. I won’t even watch a dogs purpose because the thought of cruelty to dogs chokes me up.

I instantly felt sad for this guy.

“Sorry to hear it, mate. I know it will be hard and you’ll be distracted but I need you to come in tomorrow. We’ve got that deadline”.

As a massive dog guy, this was his whole world, gone. Understanding his love for his dog, I wanted to make sure he had time to grieve. But we had to get this project finished.


My heart sank. I wanted to help.

The next morning, I pulled his supervisor aside. “As soon as Bernard can be spared, send him home.”

“Why? It’s just a dog!” he responded with a puzzled look.

Just a dog.

@austinchan via Unsplash

Because I’ve invested the hours into getting to know my team, I knew this was more than just a dog. This was a part of his identity.

“To you and me, it’s just a dog. It’s more than that for him. We’ve got each other’s back and I want him to have some space.”

Bernard went home. This wasn’t going to bring his dog back but it offered an opportunity to grieve and get back in the headspace we needed.

Research shows that emotional intelligence is critical to unlocking transformational leadership. Empathetic concern has shown to increase the influence of a leader throughout their team. Given that empathy is a feature of emotional intelligence, no wonder that the idea of transformational leadership and empathy go hand in hand.

Until the 1980s management was centred around the idea of transactions. The manager handed out jobs and the workers did them.

Just like my wife, she finds jobs and I do them. (She’s reading over my shoulder saying “no you don’t”.)

Friendly two-way communication and with an emphasis on emotions such as empathy increases team motivation.

You have to get to know your team on a deeper level.

Understanding what matters to your team takes two things;

  1. Time and
  2. Emotional intelligence.

To achieve those things, try the following:

  1. Schedule a regular stand up

In software development circles, you often hear about them getting together each morning to discuss what they are working on and the challenges in their way. In my team, I do this every morning. It takes 10 minutes and it has resulted in building strong relationships with everyone on my team.

Here are some of the questions I ask:

How was your night/weekend?

Is there anything you need me to do for you this week?

What’s stopping you from getting your work done?

These are just a couple of generic examples I asked when I first started working with this team. Now, as our relationships have developed, I ask more specific questions about their life.

For example, one member of my team is building a house. So I strike up a conversation every so often about how the building process is going. It shows that I am paying attention and understand what matters to them most at the moment. It is also a clue if they’re stressed out or worried.

I also, every day, ask what I can do for them. I’m their manager, it is my job to remove the roadblocks that stop them from getting things done.

The moment you stop doing this, the two-way communication slows significantly. Think about the last time you got stuck on a simple problem. You don’t want to let everyone know that this is an issue but you still need help. Having good two-way communication with your boss makes these situations less awkward.

2. Keep detailed notes on what matters most.

I’ve set up a system in Outlook where I email notes about my team to myself and use a set of rules to send them directly to individual folders. This achieves two things; it frees up my brain space when it comes to remembering what is happening with my team and means writing their reports is accurate and simple. Once a week, I move these notes into a running word doc along with some thoughts about their performance.

The idea is that this is a super-easy way to make notes on your team and things that they mention or struggle with.

Regularly review your notes, consolidate and look for themes.

I once had a University Lecturer remember everyone in his class (there was about 120 students) and one fact about us all. It felt great when you have interactions with a boss or manager who know more about you than just Jones from Marketing.

3. Acknowledge that leading with heart is key to team trust and influence.

Googling how to deal with a bad boss delivers 270,000,000 results. In contrast, leading employees with empathy returns 9,920,000.

Why do we accept bad bosses as the norm and then figure out how to deal with them?

I challenge you to be the exception.

Research shows that leaders who understand emotions contribute to increased employee motivation as well as increased levels of optimism and commitment.

Transformational leaders, or leaders that place emphasis on inspiration, motivation and individual concern see team productivity beyond normal expectations.

Want a way to stand out as a first-time manager? Use your emotional intelligence and get to know your people!

I’ll leave you with this point to consider; Leaders who are perceived as having high empathy levels are seen to have a more active leadership style.

You became a manager to lead. Make sure you do.

It is time we, as managers, prioritise leading it with emotional intelligence. When we are separated now more than ever, having a deeper understanding of our people has to be the key to bringing us back together.

Of course, we’ll encounter people who want their privacy, (more on that in the future) for now, I challenge you to lead with heart. Lead with purpose and don’t become the subject of another article on how to deal with a bad boss.



James Tew

Dad of five. Naval Officer. Aspiring for consistent progress.