Leading With Emotional Intelligence
Author: Craig Wiggins, M.Ed.
Assistant Professor, Justice Studies, Southern New Hampshire University
FBINA Session #239

An immense amount of material has been produced as it relates to the topic of emotional intelligence, or “EI”. A quick Google search of the term alone renders over 37 million results. Additional research shows that the subject matter is discussed across a range of both public and private professions, including some we might not think of such as music studies. Likewise, there are countless TEDx talks on various applications of the subject as it relates to various professional disciplines.

Most people in supervisory or management positions have received at least some training or exposure to this topic. So then, what exactly is “EI” and why is it so important to the success or failure of your agency? Simply put, substantial research and much anecdotal evidence suggests that EI is more important than IQ. In other words, the level of intelligence of you or those who work with you is less important than your ability to understand and respond appropriately to others as it relates to success in the workplace. We’ve all seen the tragic results of a police officer who says or does something recorded by body camera or cell phone that ends his or her career and results in major damage to the public perception of their department. Likewise, we have witnessed incidents of off-duty misconduct or inappropriate behavior involving social media that create an embarrassing dilemma for the officer and his/her agency. If you’ve been a supervisor for more than a few weeks, no doubt you can probably identify at least one subordinate who seems to have all the requisite skills, intelligence, and ability to do his or her job well, but the way in which they interact with co-workers and/or the public is horrendous. In many cases, this can be directly attributed to a lack of emotional intelligence. To chalk up the behavior to sheer stupidity, a brief lapse in judgment, or poor temperament doesn’t always fully explain behavior. This is not to minimize the importance of academic ability, but merely to compare the relative impact of the two. Training and education can improve officers in so-called “hard skills” such as use of force, driving, or report writing, but can we train them for a “soft skill” like EI?

To summarize the vast work available on EI, we should first look to the recognized leading expert on the subject, Dr. Daniel Goleman, who has written numerous books on EI and continually addresses finer points of the topic. Goleman describes EI as a set of soft skills that includes: “Abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.” (Goleman D. , 1997) Others have also included such skills as knowing, recognizing, and controlling not only your emotions, but the ability to recognize what’s happening (or could happen) with others. Dr. John D. Mayer, Professor of Psychology at the University of New Hampshire defined IE as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.” (John Mayer, 1990)  Mayer and his colleague Peter Salovey were among the first to coin the term and identify its components.

Dale Carnegie, in his famous book and subsequent training program introduced in 1936 How to Win Friends and Influence People, began with Part One entitled: “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People”.  While he didn’t use the term emotional intelligence, it is clear that Carnegie was acutely aware of the importance of EI in interpersonal relationships. One of his many real-world examples included a simple one involving the safety coordinator for an engineering company. He was experiencing non-compliance by workers refusing to wear their hard hats. Initially, he would confront the violators with authority and a stern warning that they must comply. This didn’t work, so he tried another tactic whereby he asked the workers why they wouldn’t wear the equipment. For many, they were simply too hot and uncomfortable. In a more understanding and gentler tone, he reminded them that the hard hats were for their safety and designed to protect them from injury on the job. As a result, compliance noticeably increased. (Carnegie, 1981)

Cherniss and Goleman emphasize how EI can impact any organization in many areas, including: employee recruitment and retention; development of talent; teamwork; employee commitment, morale, and health; innovation; productivity; efficiency, and several others that apply to private organizations, such as sales goals and revenues. (Cary Cherniss, 2001)

The principles of resonance vs. dissonance dictate that subordinates will take their cue on emotional responses from their leaders, both positive and negative. Positive cues create resonance, negative cues create dissonance.  In their book Primal Leadership – Leading With Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, Boyatsis, and McKee note that “In any human group, the leader has the power to sway emotions”. “Leaders who spread bad moods are simply bad for business – and those who pass along good moods help drive a business’s success.” (Goleman B. M., 2004)

Cherniss illustrates the above principles as he recounts the harrowing story of former Army Brigadier General James Dozier, who was kidnapped by the Italian Terrorist group Red Brigade in 1981. During his captivity, Dozier recalled the lessons he learned in leadership training about the importance of managing his emotions. Dozier successfully influenced the emotions of his captors by remaining calm and reserved, which in turn was mirrored by his captors, one of whom later saved his life. (Cary Cherniss, 2001)

How does the concept of emotional intelligence transfer to our law enforcement agencies? It begins with hiring the best people, which we all acknowledge has become incredibly challenging. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies conduct extensive background investigations, which generally provide a plethora of telling information about the EI level of a potential candidate. In 2016, Harvard Business Review listed some “Do’s and Don’ts” for consideration in the hiring process.


  1. Use a personality test as a proxy for determining EI
  2. Use self-reporting tests
  3. Use a 360-degree feedback instrument


  1. Get multiple references and TALK in depth to them
  2. Interview FOR emotional intelligence (we’ve often tried to do this by asking stressful/emotion-based questions during oral interviews to evaluate the candidate’s response) (Cary Cherniss, 2001)

How can law enforcement leaders best utilize EI to improve their agencies? In addition to hiring people with high levels of EI, they must create and sustain a culture of EI. It starts with senior officers, field training officers, and front line supervisors. As stated previously, your subordinates will model your behavior and that of those they recognize as role models. When considering hiring and promotions, think about those candidates who have demonstrated EI in their day to day interactions, not necessarily the person who scored highest on an exam (recognizing that some collective bargaining agreements may dictate otherwise).  Ask yourself: Is this person able to communicate in difficult situations? Is this person capable of dealing with difficult individuals? Is this person mature? Does he or she conduct themselves in an ethical manner?

Not only is it difficult to recruit and hire good people, it is increasingly difficult to retain those good people when you find them. Sadly, in many cases good people leave their position not because they viewed their job as being bad, but because they perceived their boss or supervisor as bad. As noted by Goleman and Cherniss, “The most effective bosses are those who have the ability to sense how their employees feel about their work situation and to intervene effectively when those employees begin to feel discouraged or dissatisfied. Effective bosses are also able to manage their own emotions, with the result that employees trust them and feel good about working with them. In short, bosses whose employees stay are bosses who manage with emotional intelligence.” (Cary Cherniss, 2001)

Some who study EI have argued that it really is nothing more than maturity and character. It can also be argued that one cannot exist without the other. EI leads to maturity, character, and ethical decision-making. A lack of EI results in the opposite.  You’ve no doubt heard this before: your employees will naturally gravitate to the lowest level of conduct that you as a leader exhibit yourself, or that which you tolerate from them.

General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of coalition forces during the first Gulf War is quoted as stating “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”  If you’d like to hear more on leadership from General Schwarzkopf, who sadly died in 2012 at the age of 78, he gave a tremendous presentation in 1998 in Phoenix. It’s available by conducting a quick YouTube search.

If you’ve ever visited Mount Vernon in Virginia, the homestead and final resting place of George Washington, you will find one of his quotes on leadership displayed within the museum there: “Good moral character is the first essential in a man.” As law enforcement leaders, in order to ensure that character resides in your people, start with recognizing and developing a culture of EI in your organization. Given the challenging times facing law enforcement, character is even more important than ever. 


Works Cited

Carnegie, D. (1981). How to Win Friends and Influence People, Revised Ed. New York: Simon & Shuster.

Cary Cherniss, D. G. (2001, January-February January 1, 2016). The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cherniss, C. (2000, April 15). Emotional Intelligence: What it is and Why it Matters. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Goleman, B. M. (2004). Primal Leadership - Learning To Lead With Emotional Intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Goleman, D. (1997). Emotional Intelligence - Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

John Mayer, P. S. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Psychology Today.


About the Author:

Craig Wiggins
Craig is a native of New Hampshire who began a full-time career as a police officer in Laconia in 1981. He became a New Hampshire State Trooper in 1984 and served 21 years. He worked in a number of capacities with the State Police, including: Field Training Officer, K-9 handler, Detective, Major Crime Unit Assistant Commander, Polygraph Unit Commander, Commander of Professional Standards, Troop Commander, Support Services Bureau Commander, and Field Operations Commander. He retired in 2004 as a Major. After a 2-year stint working in the private sector, Craig returned to law enforcement when he was appointed Sheriff of Belknap County in 2007. He was subsequently elected to 4 terms in office. 

Craig has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Saint Anselm College and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education from Plymouth State University. He is a graduate of the 239th Session of the FBI National Academy.  Since 2012, he has been on the faculty at Southern New Hampshire University, teaching undergraduate classes in the Justice Studies program. He retired from full-time law enforcement in 2016 and now works as an Assistant Professor in the School of Arts & Sciences at SNHU. He remains a certified part-time police officer in his home town of Meredith, NH.   

Craig has presented a number of programs on the topic of emotional intelligence in the workplace to professionals, managers and supervisors, and students.