Emotional Intelligence: An Essential Skill for the Healthcare Leader


Dan C. Ellis, FACHE, PhD

Remaining competitive and relevant in this new and changing healthcare environment is placing added demands upon all who work in the field, but most especially upon those in leadership roles.  Leaders find themselves tasked with devising new strategies to ensure that their organizations are able to adapt and even embrace the multitude of changes spun off by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  As they sit alone at their desk in their office leaders are likely to ask themselves, “Am I up to the tasks before me?”  Insightful leaders are going to recognize that making monumental changes in the way their organization operates will put stress on them and those who work for them.  “Do I have the necessary reservoir  of skills, knowledge and emotional competency to do what is required of me?”  Not since the adoption of Medicare has the healthcare industry faced such an all encompassing transformation.  To survive this period and actually thrive in it a leader must possess well developed emotional intelligence competencies.

What is Emotional Intelligence?  EI is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we:

  • Perceive and express ourselves
  • Develop and maintain social relationships
  • Cope with challenges
  • Use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

Self awareness and sensitivity for the feelings of others are strong predictors of success in life and work.  EI is different from what we traditionally understand as intelligence that is measured by IQ tests.  Intellectual, or mental intelligence tends to be static and does not typically change over time. While EI is more fluid and individuals can learn to improve certain aspects of EI with focused effort over time.  Knowing  the range of your EI competencies and how well developed those competencies are is essential knowledge of any leader.  In their book Exceptional Leadership: 16 Critical Competencies for Healthcare Leadership, Carson Dye and Andrew Garman state, “Understanding and working with other people’s emotions while understanding managing   your own emotional responses requires emotional intelligence.  The most effective leaders have a deep understanding of their emotions (Dye & Garman, 2011).”

Healthcare leaders find themselves in circumstances today that require them to make demands upon their organizations that will ultimately lead to added stress and potential internal conflict.  The competent leader will recognize that he/she will need to help others develop the necessary resources, including material resources, knowledge and emotional resources.  “Healthcare leaders must understand the value and critical importance of delivering an emotionally and behaviorally intelligent style of leadership to ensure that their staff feel empowered and supported as they work through  and implement some of the greatest changes in the delivery of healthcare…. (Delmatoff & Lazarus, 2014).”

What level of Emotional Intelligence do I possess?

There are a number of assessment instruments available the best known is the Emotional Quotient-Intelligence, 2.0.  This is a self reporting instrument normed on a large cross section of people in the workplace as well as those in leadership roles.  There are 15 competencies, or subscales measured by the instrument:

Emotional Self-Expression                Self Actualization                             Self Regard

Emotional Expression                        Assertiveness                                  Independence

Interpersonal Relationships               Empathy                                          Social Responsibility

Problem Solving                                Reality Testing                                  Impulse Control

Flexibility                                           Stress Tolerance                              Optimism

The EQ-i 2.0 is an effective way to measure one’s current level of emotional and social functioning with well established validity and reliability.  The assessment identifies your strongest areas of competency as well as those areas that could use further development.  It is also a vehicle for assisting you in developing a customized action plan that makes sure you are focusing on the right development needs.

The EQ-i 2.0 must be administered and interpreted by someone certified by its publisher.  Your administrator will be able to interpret the results for you as well as assist you in developing a personalized action plan.   The instrument can easily be taken on line in about 20 minutes.  To further enhance your experience you may want to consider doing a 360 degree assessment.  This involves having you identify a group of raters who complete the same set of questions about you from their perspective.  These scores are combined into an aggregate summary which maintains rater anonymity .   The 360 can significantly enhance your understanding of how key people on your team perceive your  EI skills and help you to identify areas that need development.

The results of the EQ-I 2.0 are confidential and belong to you,  some leaders  may choose to make the results available to those responsible for conducting their annual performance evaluation, or even as part of a selection process.  Regardless of how you use the results the EQ-I 2.0 is a very effective means for helping you learn how to become a more effective leader.

EQ-I 2.0 copyright, 2011 Multi-Health Systems Inc.

Dye, C. and Garman, A. Exceptional Leadership: 16 Competencies for Healthcare Executives.  Healthcare  Administration Press, 2006.

Delmatoff, J and Lazarus, I. The Most Effective Leadership Style for the New Landscape of Healthcare.  Journal of Healthcare Management.  Volume 59, Number 4, 2014.