Emotional Intelligence and Leadership in Public Administration

Emotional intelligence refers to an innate ability to perceive one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. This understanding helps people manage feelings and act authentically and receptively in relationships and interpersonal communication. People with emotional intelligence are able to resist the urge to respond impulsively and insensitively during interactions with others. It requires a level of empathy for others and an awareness of how what one says and acts will affect someone else.

Emotional Intelligence

People with high emotional intelligence have an edge that often leads to professional success. There are a number of characteristics associated with emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is a major trait that allows for someone to recognize and accurately assess themselves. Self-aware people are also confident, honest, and able to exhibit emotional self-control. Social awareness is another key attribute that gives the upper hand in dealing with others because they excel at listening, communication, problem-solving, and collaborating. Because of these characteristics, people with high emotional intelligence excel at their jobs, achieve positions of leadership and power and, once in these positions, make effective leaders.

High EQ Makes Better Public Administrators

For those with careers in public administration, emotional intelligence helps in many aspects of the job. Public administration involves maintaining relationships with varying groups of people and managing conflict. Often these groups are trying to assert their different interests and goals, and it is the job of the public administrator to listen to the representatives of these organizations and attempt to find solutions that accommodate all sides as much as possible. This can be a difficult and stressful task, but those with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to understand differing perspectives, solve problems, and inspire cooperation.

Modern Leaders Exercising EQ

Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra is the first Latino to become Attorney General of California. Throughout his political career, including 12 terms in Congress and now acting Attorney General, Becerra has shown emotional intelligence through his self-awareness and motivation on the key issues of immigration, civil rights and women’s rights. He was born in Sacramento to parents who were both immigrants from Mexico and who worked hard to make ends meet. Becerra worked construction jobs alongside his father as a teenager and employed his strong work ethic to his studies, becoming the first member of his family to attend college and eventually getting a law degree from Stanford Law School. It took self-awareness and poise to move from his beginnings through the political ranks to become a Congressman and a state Attorney General, empowering him to promote the California people’s interests in Washington, DC.

By personalizing his experience, Becerra demonstrates emotional intelligence through his passion and motivation to fight for the rights of immigrants in the U.S. He knows that the experience of immigrants who face restricting laws, deportation and prejudice are equal to his and his family’s experience in this country. In his career he has fought against laws threatening to cut disability benefits to legal immigrants and he is driven to protect California policies that aim to help illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses, financial aid for college and legal assistance. He has said that his parents inspire his goal of bringing rights and privileges to immigrants and his motivation, rooted in personal experience, also serves to motivate others to support the cause.

Alassane Ouattara

The Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara is an example of a modern leader using emotional intelligence when dealing with opponents. After winning the 2010 election, his opponents denounced the vote, ousted Ouattara and pushed for war. Ouattara endured a long fight to regain control and once he resumed his position of power, he exercised emotional intelligence by choosing not to retaliate against his opponents with violence. Instead, Ouattara put vengeance aside, showed his commitment to the justice system and sent his opponents to the ICC to stand trial.

Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence. Ouattara understood the feelings of suffering that the 23 million people of his country had continually encountered over decades of violent civil war. The politics of the Ivory Coast had long been marred by hate speech, youth groups manipulated to commit violent atrocities and entire sections of society being marginalized. As an emotionally intelligent leader, Ouattara grasped what his people needed and prioritized peace, security, justice for victims and economic recovery as the central goals of his administration.

EQ and Leadership

Leadership in public administration involves dealing with multiple influences, such as the expectations of one’s own party and criticism and negativity from the opposition. Emotional intelligence aids in developing and maintaining strong relationships and facilitates communication between people with different viewpoints. When those who are in positions of power utilize emotional intelligence, they will be better equipped as leaders to accomplish goals and face adversity.

Learn More

If you seek to change the world on a local, national, or global level, the University of San Francisco is a great place to start. By learning more about the University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration (MPA), you will be taking an important first step toward pursuing your professional goals and commitment to social justice. Our program is designed for professionals who want to become effective managers and civic leaders who affect change through policy management and advocacy.













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