The phrase “emotional intelligence” might not come up in the boardroom, nor is it likely to be plastered on the cover of your annual report. But having it – or honing it – can mean the difference between so-so and great leadership.


“Emotional intelligence is made up of five key components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills,” Carrie Camino and Paul Warkins write for In the average company, middle managers are known for having the highest EQs, Travis Bradberry writes for Forbes, and CEOs are known for having the lowest. “Chief execs lead the pack when it comes to being direct and assertive, but they do so by emotionally distancing themselves from other people,” Bradberry writes. “It should be no surprise, then, that CEOs have much room for improvement in how they handle conflict.”


Learning to become emotionally intelligent will take some thoughtful work, but chances are, the time spent will be worth it. “Even though CEOs have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace, the best performing CEOs are those with the highest EQs,” he writes.


The first step: try to slow down your reaction times in order to notice both your emotions and those of the people around you, Bradberry advises in another closely related Forbes story.


“You may think you have a world-class poker face, but if you’re like the average executive, your weakest self-awareness skills are understanding how your emotions impact others and recognizing the role you have played in creating difficult circumstances,” he writes. “In other words, you would become a much more effective leader if you obtained a better understanding of what you feel, when you feel it.”


Other strategies may seem less daunting but are still important: recognizing the good work of those around you, using your support network to gain perspective, and improving your body’s physical reactions to stressful situations by getting enough sleep and limiting caffeine intake.


Leaders with high EQs set the tone for successful teams, write Camino and Warkins. “When EQ components are evident, (strong trust can act as) the buffer or shield that can protect a team and support project success on a high-risk, high-engagement project,” they write. “Project team members feel secure in imagining and executing creative paths to success and issues that arise are remedied efficiently and maturely. Research shows that a more cohesive, high-performing team produces better results.”