The EQ Self-Expression Domain and Leadership


Do a Google search on the term “leadership” and you get over 101 million results. Leadership is subjective – you can’t build an assessment that pinpoints who will be a great leader in a particular situation. You can, however, create a mosaic of sorts around characteristics, traits, skills, and past experiences that are important to your organization. And from that mosaic seek out candidates that align with the organizational culture, growth phase of the company, management climate, and a host of other criteria.

Technical and functional skills will clearly be part of the mosaic. Hard research is now showing that emotional intelligence plays a role in the success or failure of a leader. Many models exist and each model has its pros and cons. What is becoming clear is that a few models, supported by substantial peer reviewed data, form the basis for much of what we know regarding emotional intelligence. MHS has conducted significant research around the Reuven Bar-On model – 5 domains and 15 subscales – and how it has direct application to leadership development.


The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. ~ Jim Rohn

This broad domain (one of five) tells us a lot about how a leader communicates – with their peers, superiors, subordinates, family – really anybody with whom they come in contact. We are emotional creatures. Ideas, thoughts, people, circumstances – they all evoke emotions. What we do with those emotions. How we express those emotions (fight or flight; silence or violence) is the realm of Self-Expression.

Emotional Self-Expression

How well do you openly express your feelings – both verbally and non-verbally (posture, facial expression, eye contact, etc)? These subtle verbal and non-verbal cues play a role in how you resonate with others. Others interpret these cues and register their responses to them whether they know they do or not.

Reflect on an interaction – at work or at home – where that interaction did not go as you had intended. What was the message that you wanted to be conveyed? What message did your tone of voice and body language actually send? How did your behavior have a direct bearing on the outcome of that interaction? What steps can you take so that future interactions with this person will be much more successful?


This is the place on the continuum between milk toast and arrogant jerk (although Robert Sutton might use a different word). There are three critical components to healthy assertiveness:

  • The ability to express feelings
  • The ability to express beliefs and thoughts openly
  • The ability to stand up for personal rights

You can be both assertive and respectful. Think of an interaction in your recent past where a deeply held belief was challenged. On the milk toast/arrogant jerk spectrum where did your reaction lie? If too passive, how might you respectfully engage? If too aggressive, how might you temper your engagement? Try asking open-ended Type 2 questions.

  • Type 1 Question: Why are you so difficult?
  • Type 2 Question: What can I do to support you?

Both questions are open-ended (cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”). In Type 1 questions we default to mental models, take short cuts, repeat learned messages, have a framing bias, and use stereotypes. In the Type 2 questions we weigh our options, make rational choices, and challenge our own assumptions/rules.


It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle

Being independent is the ability to be self-directed and self-controlled. Independence doesn’t mean that you simply act on your own. For the most part, we operate in an interdependent world. Independence calls on you to seek information, on your own or in consultation with others, then make decisions. This means that the buck stops with you. We not only have to have the independence to make a decision but we also have to be able to accept any and all consequences of those decisions.

Over the next few weeks record instances where you sought out the advice of another person regarding an important decision. Reflect on the reason that you sought out the advice. Was it valuable information in helping you make the decision or were you seeking a place of refuge and allowing the other person to make the decision for you?

Here is a look at low and high values of Self-Expression. Stay tuned as we continue to look at each of the five areas of the Reuven Bar-On model of Emotional Intelligence. Each blog post will provide you with exercises aimed to help you reflect on and increase your awareness in each area.


The EQ Edge

Primal Leadership