Get your students trained in Student Social Media Academy.

A Leaders Guide to Emotional Intelligence Online

28941465_sEmotional Intelligence frameworks can be helpful to understand leadership capacity and how it applies online.  Last week I explored a number of models using emotional intelligence, including a mixed model by Daniel Goleman who has written a number of books on the topic.  Check out that post (here).

In this model self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy and motivation are at the core in leadership.  As a refresher, here is the tenants.

Self-Awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions.

Self-Regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.

Social Skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction

Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions

Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.

The reality is that emotions can be difficult to read when in written form.  It takes a set of skills as a leader to ensure your own communication is on point, in addition to sharpening your skills to decipher online message and decide digital responses.   

To apply this specific model to the digital playing field, one can take each component and consider social media and other means of technology tools and communication options such as email, text messaging, etc.


1.  Self-Awareness

Are you in touch with the emotions and feelings that arise when you go onto your email, Facebook or text messages?  Do messages or interactions with certain individuals raise responses different from the other?  Are there triggers on certain topics or people?  Being a leader online and in-person requires this awareness, knowing your strengths and weaknesses to act with humility.

Here are some suggestions to turn on your ‘radar’ when using communication technology as a leader.

  • Slow Down Your Responses.  Never respond to a digital message (email, text, social media) with an angry, sad or mad emotion.  Take at minimum an hour to respond to something that you have reacted strongly to.  This takes getting to know your ‘gut’ as well and even asking others to give you an outside perspective to double-check your response.  Remember, anything in written form can potentially live forever.
  • Look Back On Your Digital Footprint.  Go through the last month of your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and/or any other relevant social media platform.  What kinds of posts did you share?  Did they have tones of negativity, boasting, or even on the verge of being inappropriate?  Did you celebrate others as much as your own accomplishments?
  • Know Your Triggers.  Is there one particular person that tends to ‘trigger’ a negative emotion when you receiving a message or post from them?  Recognize this impact to help guide your decision in responding (or not responding at all).  Could there be a deeper issue that needs to be resolved ‘off-line’?

2.  Self-Regulation

21148639_sHow simple it can be to post anything instantly online.

One swift touch of a button and it is out there, video, an opinion or photo.  Even if only one person see’s it, it no longer is private and free for global consumption.  Digital communication has a viral potential, which as a leader you need to use to your advantage and not demise.  Never attack or make emotional decisions online.  Self-regulations means staying in control and, as a leader, possibly taking back control a negative interaction to move it into a face to face conversation.

Much fear exists from leaders presence on social media, thinking the worst case scenario such as being attacked online.  In nearly every instance this has happened either

A: it is the leader themselves to blame for posting something inappropriate or

B: Not knowing when to STOP an emotionally fueled conversation through email, text or social media.

As a leader you must take personal accountability in your digital presence and behavior.  Here are some ways to improve:

  • Take it Offline.  A major competency for a leader online is knowing when to unplug a conversation and take it in-person.  This is as simple as picking up the phone instead of an email rant back and forth, to having boundaries on when you will respond to work text messages.  Even more critical is reading cues on social media and using direct messaging capabilities to request a phone call or in-person conversation from something that has occurred on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.
  • Update Your Follow/Friend List.  Considering your Triggers and relationships with others, you may want to consider purging who you follow on Facebook or Twitter.  Is there someone who continues to get a negative ‘emotional’ response from you on social media?  Is there a reason you need to continue to follow them?  If you have ever had a run-ins online in the past with this person, it may be best to remove them.  There are also options to ‘hide’ people from your Facebook feed.  Do what you need to do to ‘take back’ your social media platforms to bring more positive emotions than negative.
  • Developing Healthy Emotion Management Techniques.  Stress is part of our lives.  When one adds technology communication tools to this, we can be hit out of no where with a message that throws off our emotional state.  You can then carry this with you into your next meeting, dinner with your family, etc.  If you do not currently have stable stress relieving techniques in your life, this should be an extreme priority for you.  For some this may include running, meditation, yoga, walk or even therapy.  Poor examples include TV, drinking, gossip, or shopping.  Leadership means taking care of yourself, so you are at your best both in-person and online!

3.  Social Skills

It takes a strong communicator to be an emotionally intelligent leader.  Taking this competency online, leaders need to have the capacity to craft messaging that contains good social skills through email, text and social media.  They need to consider the tone of a message and intended/unintended reception.  There is messaging that may work in-person that would not be received (or understood online).  For example humor or inside jokes.  Here are few elements to consider:

  • 14343652_sUse Tools to Celebrate and Acknowledge Others.  Self promotion can only be tolerated so far.  Consider a 60/40 model, with 60% of your social media communication leaning to highlighting and recognizing the awesome-ness of the people around you.  This can also include sharing resources and content written by others.
  • Know Platform Potentials & Pitfalls.  Each social media platform has pros and cons.  Twitter for example moves so quickly and a message you out in the morning is buried by lunchtime.  Also, to send a direct message you need not only to be following that person, but they too must follow you (yes complicated).
  • Get Feedback From Others On Your Digital Tone.  If you are curious how you may come across in various forms on virtual communication, ask someone you trust for feedback.  This could be looking at an email before you send it out, to pursuing your social media activity for observations.   Take their feedback constructively and seriously.

4. Empathy 

Empathy face to face and online is cornerstone of leadership.  Here you are able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, seeing the emotions experienced by the other person.  Hourly we receive status updates that range from ‘big news’ to anger, heartbreak and disappointment.  One can almost get emotionally drained if one empathize with every post.  A leaders’ ability and choice in responding with empathy through digital communication tools, when appropriate, is a skill to develop.

For example, it may make a more substantial impact for you to call someone you care about than responding on Facebook, especially if it is warranted.  This is where the challenge of virtual communication tools come into play, as body language and tone is not included.  What may seem serious, may actually be written as a joke and vice versa.  As a leader, you have a responsibility of care and it is better to act and reach out than to ignore.  Here are suggestions to consider:

  • Text Language.  The more you use online means of communication, the stronger you will become at picking up cues for emotions.  Some individuals make these obvious with emotiocons.  Others may lack their own self-awareness, posting that they want to ‘go postal’ not realizing how seriously this is taken.  First and foremost, you should “read twice and post once” any email, text or social media post.  Ensure you don’t have a cryptic or possible unintended interpretation of your messaging.  Get to know those you work closely with, you will notice when there is a major chance in their written messages, which will be clue that there are emotions behind it that may need clarified in person.
  • Develop a Community of Care.  As a leader you goal should be to develop a community of care in-person and online.  Having this perspective places you in the role of care for the dignity and wellbeing of any individual that you encounter, have it be in your office or on Twitter.   Leaders capable on digital platforms will not shy away from negativity or problems online because they have a solid foundation for moving that conversation in-person.
  • Be Approachable.  The ability to show empathy in various environments can be best displayed by proving you are an approachable and trustworthy individual.  Especially on social media this has been accomplished by many higher education professionals by leading a blended life, in that they are able to share both personal and professional elements of their life.  Fore example, allowing followers/friends (which many times include students) to see pictures of their families.  From my research on higher education senior level leaders using social media, this has allowed them to be virtually approachable to their campus community which also pays off on their campus.

5.  Motivation

What is your motivation for using digital means of communication?  A leader who is self motivated works with tools to achieve their goals and keep themselves accountable for the quality of work produced.  What is your motivation for social media, building relationships, networking, efficiency, branding?  Why do you use text messaging instead of an email or a phone call?   There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer but here is a few things to consider as a leader.

  • Set Goals.  If you are using social media as a leader to make an impact on your campus community, how can you quantify this?  Do you want x number of students to be following you?  Or does this mean you will Tweet once per day about campus information?  Are you creating boundaries when you will respond to email or text messaging on the evenings or weekends?  By having a plan in mind, you will have a stronger sense what is working…which may be different for varying populations such as students, parents or colleagues.
  • Be Positive.  Choosing to be positive and productive using digital communication tools actually sets you as a leader far apart from other working professionals.  The unprofessional behavior continues to astound me.  Be embracing the ability to a be a digital leader, you are taking responsible for you action online, understanding they have long-term repercussions to relationships long-term.  Committing to be positive is not just in how your respond, but what you decide to post.  The internet is full of garbage, consider what you put out online to contribute to the conversation not to add to the junk.   
  • 26712406_sCivil and Constructive Digital Conversations.  Each of you have received at least one email that you have wanted to scream at in response to.  Or a Facebook post that sends you over the edge.  Some of these probably did deserve a swift kick, but as a digital leader you need to rise about this.  It may also require you to call in the troupes such as superiors into the conversation such as on email or picking up the phone instead of fueling a fire.  
  • On social media, especially around politics you will seeing strong opinions in various platforms.  Choose your battles and decide if in that conversation if you can make an impact.  Many times digital arguments are ignited within seconds and have the potential to make the nightly news.  Consider the platform.  On twitter you only have 140 characters.  Facebook your grandma is highly likely to read it.  Maybe you convictions should be based on a blog where you can fully articulate your points and direction individuals to further resources to consider.

This post was meant to take the concepts of Emotional Intelligence into how we think about our digital activity, especially on social media. I will admit I have been sender of poor digital communication, such as sending a heated text message or email.  While we can apologize, what is important moving forward is learning from the experience, evaluating what you would do next time and strategizing moving forward.

If I was summarize what you as a leader should take away from this post, it would be this:

When emotions become elevated take it offline and push to produce positive content online.

*All images purchased from
Follow me on Twitter @josieahlquist

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.

Share this post!

You may also like...

Hybrid Hype in Higher Ed, Is your campus ready?

Hybrid Hype in Higher Ed – Is your campus ready?

A hybrid campus is not attempting business as usual while adding online options. It is completely redefining and reshaping what is the campus experience.

Read More »

Building Online Community for College Students

Building Online Community for College Students Connection is more important than ever. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, what will become your campus digital living room or quad? Beyond the classroom, where will our students find each other to laugh, lead, and just be? How can student engagement professionals and social media professionals collaborate …

Read More »

Cultivating Faculty Partnerships: How Digital Marketers and Faculty Can Combine Forces

Josie Ahlquist, EdD, with Danielle Sewell, MFA “Marketing just makes me feel slimy.”  The faculty member who said this was a colleague I respected and the topic had come up during a committee meeting about campus-wide initiatives, including communications. She dropped it casually, with no intention of being malicious. It was just how she felt.  …

Read More »

Subscribe to my newsletter

For the latest on digital engagement and leadership and everywhere they intersect.

Spark your mission on social media

Sign up for the Digital Leadership Download

The newsletter that brings the latest in digital engagement and leadership right to your inbox

Unsubscribe anytime. Read our Privacy Policy.

Sign up for the Digital Leadership Download

The newsletter that brings the latest in digital engagement and leadership right to your inbox

Unsubscribe anytime. Read our Privacy Policy.