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What is Your Digital Emotional Intelligence?

How can we apply the leadership theory and framework of emotional intelligence into a definition of what leadership can look like online?  When do emotions become obvious through digital communication tools and how do you manage them?  What awareness do you have of your own social media behavior and the expression of intended or unintentional emotions that are communicate through your activity?

photoI’ll give you a hint, it is more than knowing the difference between Emoticons.  In this post I will present different models available in the Emotional Intelligence research and practice and begin to explore how they can be carried over to digital leadership.

In a future post I will apply even more specifics, including reflections, activities and definitions to apply emotional intelligent leadership teachings for developing college students, as well as any leaders’ personal practice.

Emotions have been tied to social media use, especially for young adults.  Wandel (2008) cited that social media provided an emotional bond for social support as freshman students entered college.  Koles and Nagy (2012) also found that students wanted to go online to find emotional support.  

Paying attention to the emotional dimensions of development in education has been documented in digital literacy frameworks, as well as digital citizenship curriculum that is surfacing in K-12.   A captain for this cause is an organization called Common Sense Media.  

They define digital literacy as “The ability to use technology competently, interpret and understand digital content, assess its credibility and create, and research and communicate with appropriate tools” (Commons Sense Media, 2009, p. 1).

Considering the complex interpersonal interactions and skill involved, this definition should also include technical, cognitive, and social-emotional learning online and offline (Ng, 2012).  So, do you or your students have these skills?   

Looking specifically at social-emotional learning, Emotional Intellegence can begin to guide the conversation about online behavior.  A variety of authors have been part of constructing Emotional Intellegence (EI).  Currently there are three models including Ability Model from Peter Solvey and Johyn Mayer, Trait Model from Konstantin Vasiley Petrides and Mixed Model from Daniel Goleman.

To offer a general definition of EI includes ones capacity to monitor emotions of themselves and others and further to be aware of different emotions to label them, as well as guiding thinking and behaving around this emotional information.

Ability Model

Looking at the Emotional Intelligence framework from Mayer and Salovey (1997) there are four parts, “Ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth” (p. 10).  

This has been referred to as an Ability Model with the following competencies visually depicted below:


Mixed Model Emotional Intelligence

The year after Mayer and Balovey, Daniel Goleman (1997) released “What Makes a Leader” including competencies and skills that specifically drive leadership.  He just released an updated 2014 edition.  This Mixed Model includes


Emotional Intelligent Student Leadership

Applied further to leadership development Allen, Shankman and & Miguel (2012) proposed five emotional intelligence capacities for leaders

  • Emotional self-control
  • Emotional self-perception
  • Flexibility
  • Optimism
  • Empathy

Applied to student leadership, these authors defined an emotional intelligent leader (EIL) as one “With an intentional focus on context, self and others, and further emotionally intelligent leaders facilitate the attainment of desired outcomes” (Allen, Shankman & Miguel, 2012, p187).

The priority in leadership for relationship is specifically monitoring ones emotions with self and others. An EIL is deliberate on how they act, being intentional through sense making.  Applied to digital communication, this would be remixed to read a Digital Emotional Intelligent Leader is deliberate how they act online and in person, being intentional through sense making through various communication platforms.  They apply awareness of their own digital behavior with self and others.

The authors go on to explain that leaders experience a “process by which people seek to understand and clarify ambiguous or ill-defined situations” (Allen, Shankman and & Miguel, 2012, p. 187).  From this process leadership is learned and further developed.  This statement needs to be challenged in how emotions and communication methods change from in-person to online.  The perceived meaning of a text or email, which may not be the actual intended message.  The ‘unwritten’ rules of such platforms as Twitter or Facebook.  How is this level of emotional intelligence learned?

These authors believe to apply EIL to leadership programs, the following needs to be included: conceptual understanding, skill building, feedback, and personal growth.

28941465_sDigital Emotional Intelligence

Applied to digital student leadership, EIL can equip all students to reflect, be intentional, and even regulatory of their online activity.  It also connects students to their leadership in relation to others, on and offline.

I would suggest using real world case studies and personal experiences with incidents occurring both face to face as well as online.  I have written before about how educators can adapt the Social Change Model to digital activity and leadership practices (here).  This opportunity also exists with the EIL model.

A concept analysis study recently looked research on social media and emotional intelligence, exploring whether there was an influence in the workplace.  The authors report

“It is established that the traits like self-awareness, self-regulation, tolerance, impulse control, empathy and reality testing are related to emotional intelligence. In other words, EI enables an individual to make self-controlled informed decision when selecting content of a message to be posted on social media outlets.” For more on this research, please read more (here).

My next post will propose methods on using the models mentioned here as building blocks to teach digital leadership skills through Emotional Intelligence.

For additional insight into Emotional Intelligence, as it is applied to leadership and digital technologies, here are a few articles to review.

For all content cited on this post, explore {here} for all references I have used on this blog.
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About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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