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Attitude Reflects Leadership: The Role of Emotional Intelligence

By Sgt. Maj. Sean M. Horval

Southern European Task Force & Africa

February 5, 2021

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U.S. Army ROTC instructors

Merriam Webster defines leadership as “a person who has commanding authority or influence” (“Leadership,” n.d., para. 14). By this definition, anyone who holds rank or influence is a leader. However, what often separates good leaders from average, or even bad leaders, is their attitude. Since an organization's success or failure depends on the alignment of purpose, direction, and motivation among leaders and followers, leaders must develop positive attitudes in themselves and others to better achieve mission success (Department of the Army, 2019). The purpose of this article is to highlight the documented effects between emotional intelligence (EI), which is the ability to understand and positively influence subordinate and peer attitudes and motivations, and leadership effectiveness, while also offering methods to increase U.S. Army emotional competence.

Scientific Evidence

Research published in peer-reviewed journals suggests EI plays an essential role in developing positive attitudes at work and in life. Brown and Moshavi (2005) state “EI could potentially contribute to a more holistic understanding of interpersonal influence and leadership”; (p. 867). Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2013) report EI as a significant factor in creating a positive organizational climate. Momeni (2009) claims it is mostly a leader's emotional behavior affecting the organizational environment and its members' attitudes. Goleman (2005) suggests that when people only look at leaders' verbal and reasoning capacities (the typical IQ approach), they miss out on the full spectrum of human intelligence and leadership potential. He argues one's IQ in conjunction with EQ (emotional quotient) encompasses various capacities, such as awareness, conceptual and creative thinking, and interpersonal relations. Goleman proposes IQ and EQ determine our ability to influence others and positively change attitudes, including our own. Goldstein (2017) states EI is more important than IQ because with a high EI, “Assessing the emotional element of a situation, whether positive or negative, will help you keep employees engaged and enable you to better understand their mindset and behavior” (para. 2). For these reasons and more, it is vital to understand EI's effect on a person's motivation to maintain a positive attitude.

Based on the evidence that EI cultivates positive attitudes and high performance in the workplace, it is reasonable to conclude effective leadership is not merely determined by IQ, personality, or skills, but also by capabilities related to guiding and directing emotions. Of note, studies also suggest EI's relationship to effective leadership in the workplace is more important for some professions than others. In other words, EI is essential in jobs requiring an ability to influence others and demanding social interaction; some good examples include the military, politics, and educational institutions. Similarly, EI is more valuable for team performance than individual performance and plays a more significant role in high-stress situations and occupations (Antonakis et al., 2009; Daus, 2006; Jordan & Troth, 2004; Nadler, 2017).

U.S. Army Pfc. Justin Garrison

U.S. Army Practices

The U.S. Army recognizes Daniel Goleman's EI model and formally teaches it to students at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA). The mixed-model consists of four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017). Self-awareness involves knowing one's internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions. Self-management pertains to managing internal states, impulses, and resources to facilitate reaching goals. Social awareness refers to one's capacity to recognize others' feelings, needs, and concerns. Lastly, relationship management is associated with adeptness in inducing desirable responses in others. Interestingly, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McGee (2013) claim EI and IQ are essential for effective leadership; however, they stress EI becomes more important than IQ as one climbs the organizational ladder.

Considering the amount of studies and research on EI, there is a need to increase U.S. Army leadership training to maximize their effectiveness. There are currently two methods the U.S. Army can use to increase leader emotional competence: Assessment tools and leadership development training programs.

Assessment Tools

There are a multitude of EI and leadership assessment tools. However, the following are those most often used and cited in studies and would likely have the most practical use for the U.S. Army. They include the following:

MSCEIT v2.0: The Mayer–Salovey–Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, Version 2.0 (MSCEIT V2.0) measures four branches, or skill groups, of EI: (1) perceiving emotion accurately; (2) using emotion to facilitate thought; (3) understanding emotion; and (4) managing emotion (Mayer & Salovey, 1997; Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 2016). For more information about obtaining the MSCEIT V2.0, click here.

EQ-i 2.0: The Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) 2.0 is a self-report measure of successful leaders' emotionally and socially intelligent behavior (Bar-on, 2013). You can find a detailed description of the EQ-i and its development in the 1997 Bar-On EQ-I Technical Manual. According to Stein (2017), “it is a useful tool for all those who assess leadership effectiveness” (p. 178). It is also “specially designed for use with current leaders, people undergoing leadership training, and high potential leaders" (p. 88). For more information about obtaining the EQ-i 2.0, click here.

Multi-rater: An alternative to self-report measures is the multi-rater or 360-degree feedback assessment tool. Multi-rater measures require others to rate the person rather than rely on the person's self-evaluations. There are, however, some downsides to multi-rater assessments. Compared to performance tests or self-report inventories, they are more complex and expensive, and their results can be distorted by the politics of the social settings and environments in which they occur (Cherniss, 2015).

Some commonly used 360-degree feedback assessment tools include the Bar-on EQ-360; Daniel Goleman's Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI); the Genos Emotional Intelligence Inventory (Genos EI); and the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue) 360°.

More information can be found at the Consortium for Research on EI in Organizations, which provides descriptive information on tests and links to measure EI.

Emotionally-Intelligent Leader Development

Emotionally intelligent leader development opportunities are another route to increase leadership effectiveness. Sadri (2012) suggests there are four approaches to leadership development: Personal development, conceptual understanding, feedback, and skill-building. The U.S. Army currently uses all the prescribed approaches. Its environment provides the right set of circumstances for personal and professional growth, utilizes trained professionals to facilitate conceptual understanding of learning materials, routinely provides and encourages feedback, and focuses on skill building so leaders at varying echelons can effectively perform their duties. An adjustment to this approach would be to add an element of EI training to each of the four approaches so the focus on EI is constant throughout Soldiers' careers and not just relegated to school house or training environments.

Another effective way to emotionally develop leaders is to use hands-on experiential exercises or simulations to emulate the real-life leadership challenges organizations often face. For example, role-play offers a way to test how well a person handles a complicated situation or demonstrates empathy towards someone who is depressed or otherwise emotionally conflicted. The drawback to these kinds of evaluations is the requirement for more time and resources than self-report or multi-rater assessments due to having to train up and play out scenarios, but given the stakes involved—effective leadership and influence—the time invested would be worth it.

Another practical option would be to identify leaders high in EI to administer a series of EI professional development sessions to target audiences. Using leaders with high EI as role models and trainers would more efficiently focus future leaders towards effective leader development.


Emotionally intelligent leaders protect their Soldiers' well-being and organizational interests while upholding Army values. This makes them positive role models who build strong relationships with their subordinates, peers, and unit leadership, consistent with the Army Leadership Requirements Model. Research shows every leader is capable of improving their emotional competencies. Units can built on positive relationships and attitudes to increase mission effectiveness and prepare the next generation to effectively lead from the front.


Antonakis, J., Ashkanasy, N. M., & Dasborough, M. T. (2009). Does leadership need emotional intelligence? The Leadership Quarterly, 20(2), 247–261.

Bar-On, R. (2013). The Bar-On concept of EI.

Brown, F. W., & Moshavi, D. (2005). Transformational leadership and emotional intelligence: A potential pathway for an increased understanding of interpersonal influence. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(7), 867-871.

Cherniss, C. (2015). Emotional intelligence: Toward clarification of a concept. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 3(2), 110–126.

Department of the Army. (2019). ADP 6-22: Army leadership and the profession.

Daus, C. S. (2006). The case for an ability-based model of emotional intelligence. In K. R. Murphy (Ed.), A critique of emotional intelligence: What are the problems and how can they be fixed?. (pp. 301–324). Lawrence Erlbaum.

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Momeni, B. N. (2009). The relation between managers’ emotional intelligence and the organizational climate they create. Public Personnel Management, 38(2), 35–48.

Nadler, R. (2017). 10 reasons why teams need emotional intelligence. Psychology Today.

Sadri, G. (2012). Emotional intelligence and leadership development. Public Personnel Management, 41(3), 535–548.

Stein, S. J. (2017). The EQ leader: Instilling passion, creating shared goals, and building meaningful organizations through emotional intelligence. Wiley


Sgt. Maj. Sean M. Horval is a former infantry brigade command sergeant major and instructor for the department of command leadership at the Sergeant Major Academy (SGM-A). Currently, he serves as the G3 sergeant major for U.S. Army Southern European Task Force-Africa. Horval is a SGM-A class 65 graduate; and completed five tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He holds an Associate of Arts degree from the University of Maryland University College, a Bachelor of Science degree from Excelsior College, and a Master of Education degree in lifelong learning and adult education from Penn State University.

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