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Alumni in Action

EdgeUp: Leading with Emotional Intelligence

By Haley Tollison

June 9, 2023

EdgeUp: Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Effective leaders are often described as empathetic, self-aware, and possessing superb communication and problem-solving skills. With big shoes to fill, aspiring leaders may find themselves wondering how they can hone these vital workplace skills. According to Tracy Nelson of WSB’s Center for Professional and Executive Development (CPED), it all starts with emotional intelligence (EI).

During WSB’s EdgeUp webinar on June 7, Nelson helped attendees recognize the state of their own EI and offered tools and tips for improving this critical skill.

Nelson begins by offering her definition of EI: “[EI] is our ability to be aware of our own thinking patterns, mental models, and behaviors, and to manage and adapt our reflexive responses and actions to more effectively understand, connect with, influence, and build constructive relationships with others.”

Put more simply, Nelson describes EI as a foundational soft skill that is essential for leaders in both formal and informal roles. She goes on to explain how technological disruption—increases in technology such as digitization, machine learning, and AI in the workplace—are also driving the need for increased EI skills.

Nelson then reviewed Dr. Travis Bradberry’s model of EI, spending the majority of the discussion on the personal competency elements of self-awareness and self-management. Bradberry is the coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder of TalentSmart(R).


Developing a high level of self-awareness begins with analyzing your own thinking patterns. This process, called metacognition, can help you recognize common roadblocks that hinder EI. For example, our brains often reinvent incoming information from our observations. Nelson emphasizes that the ability to recognize this thinking pattern—and weed out the facts versus the fiction—is key to becoming self-aware and developing EI.

Nelson’s EI Self Check on Self-Awareness: Be aware of your own thinking patterns, pause, and ask reflective questions to discern what is fact and what is fiction.


Self-management—the ability to manage our thoughts and behaviors—is another integral component of EI. Nelson explains that certain situations might cause you to experience negative emotions, which can in turn lead to unconstructive responses. She advises you to take a moment, acknowledge your emotions, and instead choose a constructive response.

Nelson’s EI Self Check on Self-Management: Develop mitigation strategies to use when feeling emotional reactions. Check your mindset: Are you engaging in a “my way” mindset in which you are always right, or a “collaborative mindset,” in which you have something to learn?

Watch the webinar to learn more about these personal competencies, as well as the social competencies—social awareness and relationship management—that also contribute to EI.

Tracy Nelson, SPHR, CPTD is the president and CEO of Aspire Talent Group and has over 35 years of business experience in industries such as health care, financial services, insurance, hospitality, manufacturing, and nonprofit. She is also a leadership development instructor and human capital consultant for the Center for Professional and Executive Development (CPED) at the Wisconsin School of Business, as well as an adjunct faculty member in management and human resources.