Interpersonal Connections

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Engaging in behaviors that contribute to productive interactions and relationships with others is a cornerstone of effective leadership. The reality is that leaders—people in formal or informal positions of leadership—assume heightened stress levels. When you step back and examine the role, a leader often works with others to solve a problem or advance the mission. Rarely are either of these clean and easy. Successful leaders display emotional and social intelligence, build relationships with ease, and mitigate toxic behaviors in self and others.

According to scholar Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence involves being aware of and regulating one’s own emotions. Essentially, you have the emotional literacy to understand how you feel and regulate the emotions that come from those feelings as needed and appropriate. Now, this does not mean you do not feel hurt or frustrated, or even stressed out. It merely means you can regulate your emotions to get the work accomplished. Think about a professional athlete and their need to remain calm and composed during a competitive game or a chief executive officer (CEO) who often addresses extremely complex problems daily. Their ability to regulate emotions is an important skill to maintain a level-head through difficult times.

Social intelligence means you have an awareness of how others are feeling. You can empathize with how it must feel to be in their shoes, and as the definition suggests. Perhaps, a colleague is having a challenge with a work task. You as the leader, pause, slow down, talk through the situation, and address their needs.

In the end, emotional and social intelligence is about you and others—your feelings and the feelings of others and the contextually appropriate ways to navigate your interactions with others.

A second hallmark of strong interpersonal connections is building relationships with ease. The reality is that leaders, people in formal or informal positions of leadership, need others. In fact, leaders do not do leadership. They co-create with others. We can call them followers, subordinates, team members, collaborators, stakeholders, or any number of other terms. The reality is that healthy relationships provide the basis for individuals and groups to work above and beyond for a better future. Working well with others is art and science, and leaders must be skilled at assessing the context, displaying care and compassion, demonstrating empathy, and engaging in professional and appropriate interactions. Likewise, leaders must foster productive relationships, build trust, and create partnerships and allies to accomplish the work.

A third attribute of strong interpersonal connections is the ability to mitigate toxic behaviors in self and others. Everyone has strengths and areas of development. At times, leaders engage in counter-productive behaviors, which may diminish trust, damage relationships, and derail careers. Awareness of toxic behaviors is an essential step in ensuring that you are not reducing others’ experiences. A second step is seeking out the feedback of others. By doing so, you have increased levels of self-awareness and better understand how others experience you. Being open to feedback does not mean that you have to agree with the input. Still, it’s critical to take it under consideration, explore with trusted advisors, and correct course as necessary.

As you explore the Interpersonal Connections Skill, think closely about the relationships you have developed in your associations, organizations, teams, or workplaces. Do you build relationships with ease? Are they long-lasting and built on a strong foundation of trust? Leading others is a team sport, and this Skill can help you engage with others to work toward your shared vision. In this Skill, you will find real-world scenarios, videos, data, and more that will help you:

  • Understand how to assess the context
  • Identify individuals who display emotional and social intelligence
  • Understand the importance of and strategies for developing authentic relationships
  • Identify toxic behaviors in others
  • Implement tools for mitigating toxic behaviors in self

Further Reading

Ferriss, T. (2017). Tribe of mentors: Short life advice from the best in the world. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Kellerman, B. (2004). Bad leadership: What it is, how it happens, why it matters. Harvard Business Press.
Lipman-Blumen, J. (2006). The allure of toxic leaders: Why we follow destructive bosses and corrupt politicians – and how we can survive them. Oxford University Press.
Shankman, M. L., Allen, S. J., & Haber-Curran, P. (2015). Emotionally intelligent leadership: A guide for students (
2nd ed.
). Jossey-Bass.
Watkins, M. D. (2013). The first 90 days. HBR Press.
Zak, P. J. (2017). The neuroscience of trust. Harvard Business Review, 95(1), 8490.