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Leading with Emotional Intelligence: How Non-Cognitive Skills Define a Great Leader

Author and former presidential speechwriter James C. Humes sheds light on the significance of communication in leadership in these words, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

You're probably thinking, what's so special about communication when it comes to leadership. Isn't communication more than merely the exchange of information? If you think this, my friend, you are misunderstood.

Communication goes way beyond just being a tool of conversation among individuals, especially when it comes to leaders. It is the whole set of non-cognitive skills that supports leaders in stirring the hearts and minds of their supporters. When leading, you need to be a full package, a combination of technical and executive function skills. These skills are sometimes referred to as life skills or soft skills. They help you understand others, channel emotions effectively, be resilient in adversity, and utilize challenges to grow as a leader.

Leaders are required to inspire and motivate their followers and bring them together to achieve common goals. If you are a leader, you have a responsibility to aid people in polishing their finer points of personality; as J. Buchan says, “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”

For such challenging work, if a leader is not proficient in communication, aka mastery in executive function non-cognitive skills, they can’t be successful. But what actually does this communication entail which supports a leader that radically? The following gives us a clear and comprehensive idea about the phenomenon of executive function, soft-skill-oriented communication in leadership.

Executive Function Skills & Effective Communication


Executive function or soft-skill-oriented communication involves practicing empathy towards others, understanding their perspective, and communicating in a way that takes their feelings and emotions into account.

Active Listening

Effective communication from a leader involves actively listening to others, paying attention to what they are saying, and responding in a way that shows you have heard and understood them. Listen to understand. Don’t just listen to respond.

Non-Verbal Communication

Soft-skill-driven communication also involves paying attention to nonverbal prompts, such as body language and tone of voice, to communicate empathy, understanding, and respect.

Positive Reinforcement

Appreciation is the best thing you can offer your team as a leader through effective communication. It involves providing positive reinforcement to team members, recognizing their strengths, and encouraging them to develop their skills and abilities.

Conflict Resolution

You have to master conflict resolution if you want your team to achieve collective goals. A leader practices non-cognitive skills expertly by resolving conflicts in a constructive and respectful manner, using active listening and empathy to understand the concerns of all parties involved.

Emotional Intelligence

When you are a leader, you are the foundation for people’s dreams, and emotional intelligence can help you powerfully manifest those dreams. Being emotionally intelligent involves developing emotional intelligence, understanding and managing your own emotions, and being aware of the feelings of others. It also enhances resilience and grit.

Trust Building

Trust is the key that helps you become a leader. This trust can be strengthened through open and transparent communication, consistent actions, and accountability for your decisions.

Besides the listed ones, non-cognitive skills serve as an effective tool to develop the following abilities in a leader:

  • Resilience

  • Adaptability

  • Self-efficacy

  • Mental power

  • Grit

All of the aforementioned qualities define the overall makeup of a great leader, as no leader can achieve their goals until they master the art of executive function traits and effectively connect with their followers. When you are tough and prepared to adjust to difficult conditions, you are at your finest as a leader because you not only become more determined but also the true hope of your followers. These aspects boost your confidence as a leader, providing tremendous mental and emotional strength.

Eyes Wide Open: Learning to Suffer

A Guide to Map Your Way as a True Leader Through Executive Function Skills

Non-cognitive skills, or as we refer to them, executive function skills, are essential in helping leaders navigate their way in situations of uncertainty and complexity, which a leader should be well-learned of as they lead a horde who believe in the competencies of its leader and is totally dependent on them. Leaders are examples to look up to and the catalyst of emotions for their people. So whether the team is enthused or demotivated is entirely dependent on the leader. Jason Sharp, having great insights about executive function skills and their input in making successful leaders, defines this philosophy well in his book Eyes Wide Open.

The author comprehensively describes the complete character sketch of an effective leader and gives a detailed account of what actually being successful as a leader is. In his opinion, an effective leader encompasses the following:

  • Listen to understand

  • Tactical empathy

  • Understand how to repurpose yourself & others

Sharp also discusses why developing resilience and mental toughness is essential for leaders, as well as the impact of life adversities in this regard. Altogether, the book is distinctive in its approach to developing and honing leadership qualities.

The book is set to release soon, so sit tight and witness how executive function skills add to your productivity as a team leader!

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