Emotional Intelligence: The Social Skills You Need To Succeed As An Entrepreneur

I think most of us had a favorite lecturer in University; the lecturer who wasn’t necessarily the most academically gifted of the pack, but definitely the most approachable. And that was a big thing in Uni - having someone you could talk to when your studies got overwhelming or an imminent deadline was escaping your grip. In a massive lecture hall, where your concerns often felt as anonymous as the person sitting next to you, having a lecturer you could trust was a pretty big deal.

Those types of lecturers were an elusive bunch, but when you struck lucky you struck gold. They were the people who actually cared about what happened to you when you exited those double doors in your graduation gown and walked into the big bad world of student loans, and internships, and, well, adulting.

There’s a word for that, you know; the way that some lecturers approach their relationships with their students, so that they encourage and inspire them as individuals rather than simply seeing them as mere cogs in a wheel. There are two words for it actually:

“Emotional Intelligence”

So, now that we’re actually in the big bad world rather than simply preparing for it — let’s delve a bit deeper into what emotional intelligence actually is and why it’s so important for an entrepreneur to acquire.

Emotional Intelligence is a term that was first coined by psychology professors, John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990. Mayer later defined emotional intelligence in the Harvard Business Review in the following way;

“From a scientific (rather than a popular) standpoint, emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions. It doesn’t necessarily include the qualities (like optimism, initiative, and self-confidence) that some popular definitions ascribe to it.”

Another leader in this field and author of the aptly titled ‘Emotional Intelligence’, Daniel Goleman, was the first person to look at this form of intelligence from a business standpoint. In his research, Goleman noted emotional intelligence as an essential leadership quality that’s required to recognize and regulate emotions.

According to Goleman, humans tend to make emotionally driven decisions (aka, me — when I hit the supermarket on an empty stomach) which they justify rationally afterwards (aka — me when I convince myself that it was totally okay to have those extra fries because I skipped breakfast). In a business setting, however, this means that entrepreneurs who can learn to manage their emotional responses will develop the skills to avoid this type of impulse decision making and therefore be more successful as a result (…and probably lose weight).

Although IQ was the yardstick of ultimate ‘brainy-ness’ for a while there, emotional intelligence has now become recognized as one of the core leadership qualities required in order to become successful, Sure, IQ is a more traditional and accepted way of predicting future success, but to focus solely on ‘book smarts’ takes an extremely short-sighted view of what the role of an entrepreneur actually is. After all, there’s much more to entrepreneurial success than how good your long division skills are. Much more.

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” — Daniel Goleman, HBR

The best entrepreneurs are those who lead people, inspire them, motivate them, and challenge them to achieve their utmost potential. So, think about it; which kind of person is more likely to do that? The entrepreneur with 3 Harvard degrees hanging on the wall and a ‘do not disturb’ sign glued to their door, or the entrepreneur who sits down for a chat with the team on a Friday evening over pizza and starts to build a real, open, and authentic relationship with his/her employees?

Entrepreneurs with a high level of EI create amazing company cultures by earning the trust and respect of their teams and by simply being human. They’re open to input, quick to embrace change, and — most of all — always ready to admit their mistakes.

So, What Are The Key Traits Of Emotional Intelligence?

According to Goleman, there are 5 main indicators of EI;

Mindfulness/Self Awareness

This is one of the key components of emotional intelligence as it lays the foundation for the other four. Being self aware is crucial in order to succeed as an entrepreneur; it’s about knowing how you feel at a particular time and identifying what has triggered your emotional response. For example, people who are self aware don’t think of emotions as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’; rather, they think of them as ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’. This level of emotional intelligence allows us to examine a specific emotion and whether it is warranted in a particular situation.

Entrepreneurs with a high level of EI will easily be able to identify both their strengths and their weakness, and then make decisions using this awareness.

They will often ‘listen to their gut feeling’ and rarely ignore their ‘inner nag’. These are individuals who think their plans out carefully and execute them magnificently — most of the time. When failure does come around, they embrace it and use it as an opportunity to try again. And when they do try again, they try just as hard as the first time around.

You see, self awareness is about knowing yourself, being confident in your abilities, and embracing everything that makes you, ‘you’ — including all of your faults. It’s about leaving your ego at the door and welcoming continual personal growth throughout your career, which is exactly the type of attitude that you need to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Self Regulation

This is all about how we manage our emotional responses and it’s something that’s heavily reliant on first having a solid understanding of self awareness; after all, how can you manage your emotions if you don’t understand them in the first place? In today’s chaotic business world, leaders who can successfully regulate their emotions will learn how to bend and adapt to change — rather than get broken down by it.

When change happens, these individuals use it to their advantage rather than allowing it to overwhelm them. This calm and level-headed approach is pretty essential to have as an entrepreneur, and in every area of your life really!


This is your reason for getting up in the morning — and if you don’t have it, your team sure as hell won’t have it either. In order to become motivated, you need to know exactly what your goals are and how you’re going to achieve them.

Motivated people are generally more driven, resilient, and optimistic in their endeavors. Leaders who are highly motivated will inspire their team to do their very best at all times, even when the going gets tough. They’re passionate ‘doers’ who lead by example, easily communicate their company vision, and always support each action they take with the ‘why’ behind it.


Empathy can be defined as our ability to understand and share the feelings of others, so it’s a trait that’s extremely important for an entrepreneur. Say, for example, you have a team member who has become extremely frustrated with their workload and this has become evident in their attitude; if you have empathy, you’ll sit down with that team member, acknowledge their concerns, and work with them to create a better working environment. However, an entrepreneur who’s lacking in empathy, may simply discipline the employee without even looking at the root cause of the issue.

Social Skills

As an entrepreneur, your ability to build and maintain relationships is crucial to your ultimate success. Business owners who have good social skills will have more meaningful business interactions with clients and be more successful at fostering a healthy and happy working environment for their employees — by helping them to achieve their goals, listening to their concerns, and resolving any conflicts as soon as possible. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of productivity and performance within the team.

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” — Daniel Goleman

Are you ticking all of the boxes?

If you think that you have a bit of catching up to do in terms of EI, don’t worry, it’s never too late. Unlike your IQ, your EI is something that constantly develops throughout your life and you can start working on improving it right now. To help you out, these tips are a good starting point;

  • Always focus on the endgame
  • Learn to control your emotions
  • You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so learn to listen
  • Be mindful of the thoughts and feelings of those around you
  • Always remain humble and be willing to learn from your mistakes and/or experiences

And most importantly, remember that the learning never ends when it comes to developing your emotional intelligence. You can always become better and you should continually strive to become better, for both yourself and your team. Sometimes, just knowing that you’ve barely touched on your true potential can be the most motivating factor of all.

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