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Leadership development series: Harnessing emotional intelligence

This scenario-based review demonstrates the importance of EQ to succeeding as a leader in today’s challenging law enforcement environment

Hand turns a dice and changes the expression "IQ" (Intelligence Quotient) to "EQ" (Emotional Intelligence/Quotient).

Elevating your EQ demands substantial self-exploration. It commences with self-education and a sincere assessment of areas where improvement is needed.

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This article is part of an ongoing series on leadership development for new law enforcement leaders. Each article addresses a specific area of leadership competency offering learning points, strategies and tips. Click here to access the entire Leadership Development Series.

In the law enforcement community, a commonly echoed sentiment, especially in the past decade, is that “times are changing.” However, the reality is that we have long moved beyond the era of anticipating change — we are now firmly entrenched in an era where it is an indisputable reality.

Within this new climate, effective leadership in law enforcement requires a multifaceted skill set that extends beyond traditional operational and tactical prowess. In today’s complex and dynamic societal landscape, the ability to understand and manage emotions — both one’s own and those of others — is emerging as a critical component of successful leadership. This concept is encapsulated in the term “emotional intelligence” (EQ), and its application holds immense potential for police leaders striving to navigate the challenges of the modern policing environment.

Merely possessing elevated intellectual capabilities falls short of making someone an adept leader. Although a baseline IQ is undeniably essential, possessing a high degree of emotional intelligence is far more advantageous to becoming a successful leader. While intelligence quotient (IQ) remains stable throughout one’s life, barring any traumatic brain injury, EQ can be enhanced through continuous self-improvement, education and practice.

Put plainly, elevating your EQ demands substantial self-exploration. It commences with self-education and a sincere assessment of areas where improvement is needed. The responsibility lies with you, as the effort required for this task cannot be delegated to others.

Understanding emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence encompasses a range of skills that collectively enable individuals to perceive, understand, manage and influence emotions. For police leaders, honing these skills can foster improved communication, conflict resolution and overall team dynamics. Understanding these principles is not merely a suggestion; rather, it is a necessity for successful organizations.


The foundation of emotional intelligence lies in self-awareness — the capacity to recognize and understand one’s own emotions. Police leaders who are attuned to their feelings can navigate high-stress situations more effectively, make sound decisions under pressure and cultivate an environment of trust within their teams. Don’t be fooled — this seemingly basic concept takes a focused and concerted effort to diligently monitor feelings and emotions throughout the day.


Sergeant Williams, a seasoned investigator with a keen intelligence quotient (IQ), is assigned to lead a high-stakes homicide investigation. Amid the intensity of the investigation, Williams notices subtle signs of tension within the team.

Recognizing the significance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence in his role, Williams takes a reflective moment. He acknowledges solving the case isn’t only about intellectual prowess but also about understanding and managing his people’s emotions.

In a team meeting, Williams openly addresses the stressors and pressures associated with the case. Demonstrating self-awareness, he shares his feelings of intensity and reassures the team it’s normal to experience such emotions. This acknowledgment fosters an environment of trust and openness.

By integrating EQ and self-awareness into his leadership style, Sergeant Williams not only boosts team morale but also encourages a shared understanding of the emotional challenges they face. This heightened awareness allows the team to work more cohesively, ultimately enhancing their effectiveness in solving the intricate case.


Equally crucial is the ability to regulate one’s emotions. Police leaders need to maintain composure in the face of adversity to make rational decisions. By managing stress and remaining level-headed, leaders set an example for their team members, fostering a culture of resilience and adaptability.

Failing to manage one’s emotions can and will have lasting consequences.


Officer Johnson, an experienced and respected member of the police force, is promoted to the role of lieutenant. With the new position comes increased responsibilities, including leading team meetings and overseeing a group of officers.

As challenges arise, Johnson faces difficulties in managing emotions during a critical meeting discussing a spike in criminal activity. Frustration builds up, and Johnson, usually known for composure, struggles to contain their emotions. A disagreement escalates into a heated argument with another officer, creating a tense atmosphere.

Consequences follow:

Team dynamics — The outburst disrupts team dynamics, leading to decreased morale and cooperation among officers. The once-solid team cohesion starts to fracture.

Trust erosion — Officers begin to question Lieutenant Johnson’s ability to lead effectively, eroding trust in their emotional intelligence. The team wonders whether they can rely on the lieutenant for guidance and support.

Communication breakdown — The emotional display shifts the focus away from problem-solving, hindering effective communication. Team members become reluctant to share ideas or concerns, fearing a similar emotional reaction.

Future performance impact — The incident sets a negative tone for future interactions. Officers may become apprehensive about engaging in discussions, affecting collaborative problem-solving and overall team performance.

Employee well-being — The tense atmosphere impacts the well-being of team members, increasing stress and diminishing job satisfaction. This emotional strain could lead to decreased productivity and engagement.

Social awareness

Social awareness requires empathy, the capacity to understand and share the feelings of others. In law enforcement, where officers often interact with diverse communities, cultivating empathy is paramount. Police leaders who can relate to the experiences and perspectives of both their officers and the public are better equipped to build trust and establish positive relationships.


Captain Mitchell, an experienced and intellectually sharp police officer, is leading a diverse team in a community policing initiative. The neighborhood they serve is experiencing heightened tension due to recent events, leading to increased mistrust between the police and residents.

Recognizing the critical importance of social awareness and EQ in community-oriented policing, Mitchell takes a thoughtful approach. Instead of solely relying on analytical skills, he engages in community outreach, actively listening to residents’ concerns and empathizing with their perspectives.

In a community meeting, Captain Mitchell addresses the underlying social issues contributing to tension. By demonstrating social awareness, he acknowledges the community’s sentiments and outlines steps the police force will take to address concerns. This proactive approach goes beyond the typical law enforcement response, promoting trust and collaboration between the police and the community.

This scenario illustrates how, alongside a high IQ for strategic planning, the integration of EQ and social awareness is crucial for police leaders in navigating complex social dynamics and building positive relationships with the community.

Relationship management

Relationship management, a key component of emotional intelligence, involves effectively navigating and influencing the emotions of oneself and others to build and maintain positive connections. Relationship management can only be mastered when all other areas of EQ are brought together in a cohesive manner. It encompasses skills such as communication, conflict resolution, teamwork and the ability to foster collaboration.

Individuals with strong relationship management skills can build rapport, handle conflicts diplomatically and create positive and cooperative atmospheres in both personal and professional relationships. This aspect of EQ emphasizes the importance of understanding and managing emotions in social contexts to cultivate successful and harmonious connections.

Neglecting effective relationship management can result in enduring adverse effects on the organization.


Captain Rodriguez, a seasoned officer, is promoted to a police supervisor position. Initially Rodriguez is determined to develop positive relationships within the team. However, over time, the supervisor struggles with relationship management and emotional intelligence, leading to a breakdown in connections with officers.

Consequences follow:

Lack of recognition — Captain Rodriguez fails to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of individual officers. This lack of recognition leaves team members feeling undervalued and unappreciated.

Ineffective communication — The captain communicates in a way that is perceived as distant and unapproachable. Officers find it challenging to express their concerns or seek guidance.

Insensitive decision-making — Captain Rodriguez makes decisions without considering the emotional impact on the team. This lack of empathy results in officers feeling disconnected and demoralized.

Failure to address conflict — When conflicts arise within the team, Rodriguez avoids addressing them directly. The unresolved tensions lead to a toxic work environment, hindering collaboration and team cohesion.

Isolation from the team — The captain unintentionally isolates from the officers, failing to engage in informal interactions. This lack of camaraderie diminishes team morale and a sense of belonging.

Low morale — The absence of positive relationships contributes to low morale among officers. The team becomes disheartened and less motivated to perform at their best.

Decreased productivity — The breakdown in communication and relationships hampers teamwork, resulting in decreased productivity and efficiency within the department.

Increased turnover — Officers, feeling undervalued and disconnected, start seeking opportunities elsewhere. The lack of relationship management contributes to increased turnover, impacting the continuity and experience within the team.

Limited innovation and problem-solving — The absence of open communication and collaboration stifles innovation and effective problem-solving. Officers may hesitate to share ideas or suggestions, hindering the department’s ability to adapt and improve.

Improving emotional intelligence

As mentioned earlier, improving your EQ involves substantial self-exploration. It starts with self-education and a truthful assessment of areas needing enhancement. The responsibility rests with you, as the effort required for this pursuit cannot be passed on to others.

Both “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves and “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” by Daniel Goleman are excellent books that thoroughly examine the concept of emotional intelligence and its crucial role in personal and professional success.

“Emotional Intelligence 2.0” provides a practical approach to improving your emotional intelligence. It includes a self-assessment tool that helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses in EQ and offers strategies for enhancing your skills.

Goleman’s book is considered a classic in the field of emotional intelligence. It explores the various components of EQ and how they contribute to success in different aspects of life. Goleman discusses the importance of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

Both books offer valuable insights and actionable strategies to develop and enhance your emotional intelligence. Understanding and improving your emotional intelligence can have a profound impact on your relationships, leadership abilities and overall well-being.

Final thoughts

In the evolving landscape of law enforcement, emotional intelligence stands out as a transformative tool for police leaders. By developing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management, leaders can navigate the complexities of their roles with finesse. The integration of emotional intelligence into policing not only enhances individual leadership capabilities but also contributes to the creation of more compassionate, community-oriented and effective law enforcement agencies.

As we move forward, the recognition and cultivation of emotional intelligence among police leaders will be integral to building trust, promoting justice and ensuring the safety and well-being of the communities they serve.

Master the art: Explore and learn about emotional intelligence

In this powerful and entertaining talk, Dr. Travis Bradberry, coauthor of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” shows you how to use this critical skill to your advantage. After viewing this video, use the questions below as discussion starters on this topic.

1. How can the principles of emotional intelligence be integrated into police training programs to enhance officers’ interactions with the public?

2. What strategies can be implemented to regularly assess and improve the emotional intelligence of officers?

3. In what ways can emotional intelligence help in de-escalating potentially volatile situations encountered by officers?

4. How can the concepts of emotional intelligence be used to improve internal communication and team dynamics within the police department?

5. What measures can be taken to support officers who may struggle with aspects of emotional intelligence, ensuring their well-being and effectiveness?

If you want to build strong, trusting relationships with your officers, you need to master empathy, adaptability and integrity
When you lead with heart and humility, you will boost your team’s morale and productivity
This philosophy can enhance morale, motivation and performance while fostering trust and cooperation
Grit-driven leaders model resilience for their teams, inspiring officers to approach difficulties with a sense of determination and unwavering commitment
By examining the qualities, strategies and approaches that contribute to success, we gain insights into effective leadership practices in law enforcement
Adaptability is a requirement at all levels of the law enforcement profession, not a luxury

Gene Reid is a police sergeant for the New Castle County (Del.) Police Department. Gene is currently assigned to the Professional Standards Unit and is highly active with the department’s officer wellness initiatives. Before being promoted, Gene was assigned to the Criminal Investigations Unit for over six years.

Gene holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice, with a specific focus on stress management and resilience. Gene also has an MS in education and a BS in public safety administration. Gene is an avid fitness enthusiast who trains Jiu-Jitsu and has completed numerous triathlons, including Ironman Maryland.

He is the founder of Reid Training Solutions and recently published “Police Leadership Redefined - The EQ Advantage: Transforming Law Enforcement with Emotional Intelligence.”