Leading in Moments of Change, Conflict and Crisis


Employing Emotional Intelligence as a Tool for Agile Scrum Masters

and Project Managers

by Brian Vanderjack, PMP, MBA, CSM, SAFe Agile’ist

Illinois, USA

Emotional Intelligence and its Utility for Leading Scrum and Project Teams

The objective of this paper is to share why Emotional Intelligence (EI) is useful, what it is, and how one can use it to advance leadership best practices in Project Management and Scrum teams.  The working definition of EI as used in this paper is based on the definition of EI proposed by Salovey and Mayer: Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s own as well as other’s emotions. Then managing these feelings to guides one’s own, and other’s, actions (1990, p. 189).

Why EI is Important

“The special relevance to leadership revolves around the fact that leadership is an emotion-laden process, both from a leader and a follower perspective (George, p. 12).” In support of this, Dr. Goleman, who popularized the idea of EI, indicated “EI makes up about 2/3 of the ingredients of star performance (2006, p. 187).”  Thus, if one wants to be a star leader of a project team, he or she should develop EI skills. Dr. Goleman also indicates that people who have advanced control of their emotional self make for better listeners, and this is a core building block of leadership skills (2006, p. 240).  In Goleman’s 1997 book he identifies traits of an emotionally intelligent person that are well suited toward excellence in leadership: self-control, zeal, persistence, and self-motivation (p. xii).

If we look specifically at EI’s impact on leadership, here are some of Dr. Nadler’s findings:

  • “EI determines your leadership success, contributing as much as 85-90% (p. 8). “
  • “People who possess high EI are the ones who truly succeed in work”(p. 9). “
  • Leaders who possess a high EI are found to be more “adaptable, resilient, and optimistic (p. 9).”

In another work, there is further support of the value of EI. George calls out these 5 strengths of a leader who has a good EI.  They:

  • can use EI as a signaling device for what needs attention.
  • have a better feel for correct choices.
  • are more creative.
  • are stronger at integrative thinking.
  • are better at Inductive reasoning. (p. 10)

The bottom line is based on the observed literature; there is a direct and positive correlation between EI and successful leadership.

What EI is With Respect to the Fight or Flight Response?

Understanding the basis for idea of Emotional intelligence is relatively easy.  Inside your brain, near its base is the amygdala. “The amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates the fight, flight or freeze response (Nadler, P85).”  It does this by storing your emotional memories. Each time a new event is encountered, the event is compared to similar events that it has memorized (Goleman, 2006, P. 76).  Unfortunately, the amygdala is a bit jumpy.  When it feels there is a threat, it can easily respond disrupt the processes in the neocortex, which is responsible for logical thought.  Therefore, the brain’s logic processing shuts down and reactions favor more primal response to stressors.  That is, in a person without emotional control, when an unexpected undesired event takes place, the neocortex is flooded with stress hormones (due to the amygdala) before the neocortex has a chance to react logically.  Therefore the amygdala has pushed aside the brain’s ability to logically address an event.  Dr. Goleman refers to this state as an “emotional hijack” courtesy of the amygdala (p. 261).

A Broader Look at EI

Beyond issuing a fight or flight response, the amygdala also controls other emotions and processes.  Goleman identified 5 core traits that define emotionally intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy, and motivation (2006, p. 260).  Dr. Savel & Dr. Munro, do a good job at defining these terms


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 10th Annual UT Dallas Project Management Symposium in August 2016. It is republished here with permission of the authors and conference organizers.


About the Author

pmwj39-Oct2015-Vanderjack-PHOTO1 BRIAN
Brian Vanderjack, PMP

Illinois, USA




Brian Vanderjack, PMP, MBA, CSM, SA is as an Agile Scrum Coach for AT&T, where he develops & delivers training and assists Agile Scrum teams. Related activities include:

  • Two time presenter at the Wisconsin Business Analyst Development Day.
  • Two time presenter at the University of Texas-Dallas/PMI symposium
  • Published several articles and published a book on Agile Scrum (publisher Business Expert Press).
  • Regular speaker at IBM, AT&T and PMI on Agile Scrum and other topics.
  • Earned Awards for Facilitator of the Year for the University of Phoenix, excellence in Project Management from AT&T, and as a Scrum Master for AT&T.
  • Part time instructor for the University of Phoenix.

Brian can be contacted at [email protected]

To view other works by Brian Vanderjack, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/brian-vanderjack/