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How emotional intelligence supports employee fulfillment

Leaders who hone their emotional intelligence skills are more likely to build trust and create a sense of fulfillment for employees. Greg Sloan provides a roadmap leaders can use.

8 min read


emotional intelligence

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It’s human nature to both think and feel, but people make decisions based on emotions — from anger and fear to happiness and love, emotions play powerful roles in our lives. When I worked at Goldman Sachs, “Emotional Intelligence (EQ)” wasn’t part of their repertoire. I had sat down with a key employee who was going into her second year with us, and she was a rock star, so I was about to promote her, which came with a great raise. Before I had given her the great news, she said, “Stop. I’m quitting.”

Greg Sloan

As you can imagine, that was an unexpected blow to me. But the reality was that I wasn’t listening to the signals she was sharing over the previous few years on what was important for her life. At the time, I didn’t possess strong EQ skills and lost a great employee because of it.

Focusing on the tangible side of business, such as measuring sales, implies that there’s no room for emotions in the workplace. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. People dream of leaving jobs “they hate,” and they stay at jobs “they love” when they feel fulfilled.

If a company’s leadership has EQ skills, they can increase employee fulfillment. Here are the top four most widely accepted pillars in defining what form EQ:

  1. Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your emotions.
  2. Self-management: The ability to control your behavioral response to your emotions.
  3. Social awareness: The ability to recognize other people’s emotions and understand your reactions to different social situations.
  4. Relationship management: The ability to build and maintain meaningful relationships with others.

By understanding these four pillars, you can tap into EQ to grow and retain your organization’s talent.

Understanding the four pillars of EQ

Self-awareness involves understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses. Workers who are in touch with their emotions are better able to lead their own lives. This will allow them to make better decisions and increase their work performance. However, very few individuals are actually self-aware. Harvard Business Review references a five-year research program on the subject that discovered although 95% of people think they are self-aware, only 10% to 15% actually are. 

Verywell Mind references a study by Lewis and Brooks-Gunn, who performed a self-awareness study. They placed a red dot on infants’ noses and then presented a mirror to the child. The goal was to see whether they reached for their own noses instead of their reflection. The study showed that nearly no children younger than one-year-old touched their own nose, going for the mirror instead. Shockingly, Verywell stated, “About 25% of the infants between 15 and 18 months reached for their own noses while about 70% of those between 21 and 24 months did so.” So we learn self-awareness at a young age, but it doesn’t mean we’ve honed the skill.

Knowing and understanding one’s emotions so they can better deal with situations is self-management. Employees who manage their emotions perform better because they are able to think more clearly. However, self-awareness and self-management are only half the battle when it comes to emotional intelligence.

Mastering one’s own emotions doesn’t mean that others are masters of their emotions, however. You may be doing well in understanding yourself, but unless you can spot other people’s emotions, social situations with your team will be difficult to navigate. To truly practice emotional intelligence, we must place our own emotional state into a scenario with other emotionally charged people. This is exercising social awareness, which will lead us to understanding our reactions to different social situations. Relationship management starts with understanding others’ emotional states, which opens the door to showing empathy. By caring about teams’ well-being, you can forge meaningful relationships.

Top 3 emotional priorities

Practicing EQ by leveraging the four pillars leads to greater trust with your team. By earning their trust, you can better understand where their priorities fall. Here are the top three emotional priorities workers have:

  1. Goals
  2. Dreams
  3. Purpose

Each corresponds to a different level of emotional attachment.


Goals are short to medium-term objectives with a relatively low emotional connection. Goals include being promoted to a leadership position in five years, earning higher pay or investing in a company 401K. Even though goals lack the compelling emotional component that dreams possess, it’s still important to acknowledge employees’ goals. If they want to improve themselves by achieving a goal, in doing so they could also add greater skills to your organization. If they don’t feel your support, then they may look for employment that can help them reach their goals.


Dreams have a greater emotional stake than goals. Talking about our dreams can make our hearts race and our palms sweat, as they tend to represent our own utopia. Multiple goals can contribute to achieving a dream, which is where employees envision their future. Whether it’s becoming a business partner or becoming an expert in their current role, dreams create an intrinsic motivation that drives people toward purpose. Dreams are aspirations to make something better for the future, while purpose is something we can have in the now and also look forward to having in the future.


Research reveals that employees and employers alike need to discover their life purpose in order to feel fulfilled by what they do. This places purpose as the highest level of emotional connection. Gartner surveyed more than 3,500 employees around the world in October of 2021 and found that 65% said the pandemic had made them rethink the place that work should have in their life. Fifty-six percent said it made them want to contribute more to society.

When discussing purpose, ask your workers: “How are you uniquely designed to make an impact?” Purpose-driven individuals are intentional and motivated. They find unique opportunities to improve the status quo for others. Some examples of purpose statements include, “to foster a creative work environment” or “to support teammates in becoming their best selves.” Your workers can have differing, or even divergent, senses of purpose from their coworkers due to their differing roles at the company. But they can still come together to make a positive impact based on their unique skill sets.

Now that we understand our emotional motivations better, let’s wrap up with how these emotional motivations manifest in individual personalities. Individuals fall into two main behavioral types along with two decision-making style subcategories.


Being an “accomplisher” is a lower-level emotional drive. Most people accomplish tasks at their job, so results are usually a natural outcome. This person tends to have a binary view of the world: either something is a success or a failure.

The two subcategories are:

  1. The Analyst: This type tends to be more logical than emotional and is detail-focused.
  2. The Catalyst: This type tends to be faster at decision-making and implementing ideas that are the drivers of change.


This person is more concerned with how actions impact others, particularly those closest to them. Quality is stressed more than quantity, especially when it comes to interpersonal bonds.

The two subcategories are:

  1. The Companion: This type can be logical or emotional but tend to be more accommodating. They value people over results and focus on the details in their individual relationships.
  2. The Visionary:  This type tends to be determined and risk-taking. They enjoy people-centric work focused on the big picture.

Help your employees find purpose & fulfillment

In a McKinsey & Company study, 70% of the employees surveyed said that their sense of purpose is largely defined by work. Thus, purpose and fulfillment go hand in hand. 

Just like any other skill, emotional intelligence can be studied, learned and practiced. You can start developing emotional intelligence by exercising the four pillars of EQ:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship management

Becoming more self-aware and recognizing your emotions lead to good self-management. From there, you can begin to understand others’ emotions and your reactions to them, showing empathy to build trust, which leads to good relationship management.

When emotionally intelligent leaders help their workers find their purpose, they’ll then feel fulfilled, and customer satisfaction will naturally follow. This will in turn increase employee retention and create a strong work culture.


Greg Sloan, CFP®, CEPA, CPMTM, is a Chief Purpose Officer and Co-Founder of Go Beyond, a People Development company that combines Behavioral Science and Technology to create a more prosperous workforce. With over 25+ years of experience in wealth management and financial services, Greg is a serial founder who discovered his personal purpose and wants to share the knowledge of how to achieve this same goal with others. He is a thought-leader who centers his time and energy on purpose and people, with focus on purpose in the workplace, future of work and financial wellness. Go Beyond’s mission is to create scalable, science-based tools and content that can be easily distributed worldwide to enable people to live better lives. They accomplish this by working with companies to help employers discover and support their employee’s personal purpose, thus increasing job satisfaction, retention and overall wellness. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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