Home Blog EMS EMS & Fire Leadership: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

EMS & Fire Leadership: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

People with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time in the workplace. This might seem counterintuitive, and this confused senior leaders for decades until a new book, The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book, was published and provided some answers. While leaders often considered the IQ of their constituents, they didn’t yet understand the importance of EQ (emotional intelligence) in successful employees.

In a series of articles, we will explore emotional intelligence in the workplace, why it’s so critical to success, and how to develop this skill.

The definition of emotional intelligence includes 3 distinct parts:

  1.       The ability to understand, harmonize, and display one’s feelings and emotions in a constructive manner.
  2.       The ability to recognize, interpret, and communicate with other people’s feelings and emotions.
  3.       Using these capabilities to help manage and control impulses and stress as well as to resolve interpersonal relationships and make appropriate decisions.

Successful leaders must learn how to integrate four critical parts: EQ, IQ, personality, and integrity.

For decades, leaders were taught (and consequently taught their teams) that emotions had no place in the workplace. Expression of emotion or even the acknowledgment of the emotional impact of decisions and performance were generally downplayed. Now, we have a more complex understanding that can help leaders find greater success.

You cannot beat your biology.

The human brain is constructed in layers. All sensory information must pass from the limbic system to the frontal cortex for interpretation and rational thought. The limbic system and the diencephalon not only receive and forward information but these parts of the brain are where emotions reside. All of your sensory input is influenced by your emotions prior to reaching the ‘thinking’ part of your brain—the frontal lobe of the cerebrum.

This poses a challenge—the first reaction to sensory input will be emotional. You can’t beat your biology. Also, every person you encounter experiences the same challenge! Their emotions color all sensory input before it reaches their ‘thinking’ brain.

You can, however, use the ‘thinking’ part of your brain to control your emotional response and direct it appropriately. You can prevent your emotions from hijacking the thinking part of your response. Emotional intelligence is exactly that—recognizing your own emotional response, the emotional response of others, and using skills to appropriately manage these responses.

EQ (emotional intelligence) is a learned skill. Your personality and IQ (the ability to learn) are generally fixed across your lifetime. Your EQ can improve with recognition and practice.  

Your EQ has a significant impact on many ‘soft skills’—the skills that contribute to your ability to communicate, connect, and collaborate with others in the workplace.  EQ is a part of many skills including:

  • Time Management
  • Decision Making
  • Assertiveness
  • Empathy
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Presentation Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Flexibility
  • Anger Management
  • Trust
  • Accountability
  • Change Tolerance

There are many studies that demonstrate that emotionally intelligent individuals are able to work better with others and generally outperform others with equal or even greater intelligence or technical skills. 

However, there can be a dark side to emotional intelligence. A person can employ their social abilities and their high emotional intelligence to dominate the perceptions of others, manipulate them, or use those skills to advance themselves at the cost of others. Developing your own emotional intelligence can help you recognize these negative situations and protect yourself.

Learn more about developing your EQ in our next installment, which will specifically address how to keep your own emotions from hijacking thoughts/situations—and how to prevent others from emotionally hijacking encounters and situations in the workplace.


Bradberry T, Greaves J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. San Diego, CA: TalentSmart.

Chick G. (2018). Corporate emotional intelligence : Being human in a corporate world. ProQuest Ebook Central. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu

Ingram A, Peake WO, Stewart W, Watson W. (2019). Emotional intelligence and venture performance. Journal of Small Business Management, 57(3), 780-800. doi:10.1111/jsbm.12333

Venera T A. (2019). Leadership and emotional intelligence. Analele Universităţii Constantin Brâncuşi Din Târgu Jiu : Seria Economie, (6), 160-166.

Scott Arthur headshotScott M. Arthur, MBA—Scott Arthur has worked in the EMS and fire industries for 20 years as a paramedic and later as a director and senior director of operations. He currently works as a CareerCert instructor and as a business consultant helping organizations improve their safety and team leadership skills. Scott has a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies. As an educator, Scott has presented at EMS conferences across the nation and enjoys connecting with first responders to improve department outcomes.


Building Awareness as Leaders: 4 Mistakes to Avoid
Developing Emotional & Social Competence as Leaders
Free Webinar: Building Successful Leadership in Fire and EMS