From EU to EQ?

From EU to EQ?

It is an understatement to say that the UK has been rocked by the result of the EU referendum – we’ve all read the headlines, spoken to our friends and families, and felt the growing unease. Yet perhaps it’s not just the political and economic impact of the result that we should be reflecting on but also the lessons organisations can learn about leadership.

The past few weeks have brought into sharp focus the disaffection people feel when leaders do not engage with the real concerns of real people during times of uncertainty and when they do not appear to demonstrate empathy with and an understanding of the emotional state of those around them. The current environment should encourage organisations to reflect on whether their leaders are really connected with and able to harness the aspirations and motivations of their people and unite them around a common purpose to realise business ambitions. In short, whether they are able to lead in an emotionally intelligent way.

Generally speaking, emotional intelligence (EQ) is centred on self-awareness – emotions, behaviour, values – and the ability to self-regulate emotions depending on the circumstance. It also has an external focus, including having empathy towards others, understanding wider feelings and emotions when making decisions, and managing relationships. The positive correlation between EQ and leadership capability is well-known; leaders with high emotional intelligence have been found to guide people towards a united vision, build emotional bonds and harmony among teams, develop people for the future, and drive financial success for organisations. With a high EQ, leaders are able to help people find common ground, even during times of disagreement.

Our country is entering a period of significant uncertainty and change and this is also reality for organisational life. Without doubt, the referendum has given us a genuine insight into the risks of disconnected leadership. Take the relationship between Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Whilst the granular detail of their dispute remains a mystery, it is evident that both leaders failed to demonstrate the level of self-awareness and regard for others that one might expect to see from leaders, team members, colleagues and old friends. Is this really the behaviour we expect to see?

The UK and the EU are likely to be working out the political, economic and legal implications of Brexit for years to come. However, despite the numerous uncertainties and unknowns, one thing we do know is that top performing leaders are those with high EQ. Organisations should learn from the leadership lessons of Brexit and focus on developing leaders who are able to adapt and develop greater EQ to help them connect with and inspire their people and colleagues in these extraordinary times.

At PA Consulting, we work with organisations and leaders to understand and develop this crucial capability. We recognise the need for leaders who can understand and manage the emotional journey and psychological transitions evoked by uncertain times.

  • In the drive for benefits, leaders must not forget to demonstrate empathy towards their people, particularly when delivering difficult messages. This is critical to helping them positively embrace uncertainty and change.
  • When leading through uncertain times, leaders need to identify with their audience and understand how they might be thinking and feeling. By having conversations with those around them and acknowledging feelings, leaders will be able to create common ground and build trusting relationships.
  • Lastly, more than ever before, leaders must communicate with honesty and integrity. This is essential in their quest for helping to unite people around a shared vision of the future.

Developing EQ takes time, investment and support, but it isn’t optional when managing uncertainty and delivering sustainable change.


Tara Jones is a director in PA Consulting’s London office, where Dennis Layton is a principal.

The authors would like to thank Andrea Alexander, Mauricio Arnau, Lori Dobeus, Kirill Dushkin, Lauren Miller, and Katie Smith for their contributions to this report.

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