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Exploring emotional intelligence as a facet in police leadership

April 17, 2020  By Michelle Vincent


Policing is a multifaceted operation; emotional intelligence is simply one aspect of this intricate profession. The policing organization must provide deliverables to the community, ensuring safety and order. It must also manage its own members from a skillset and mental health perspective, in order to ensure an effective delivery of those very services. Lives are often at stake in the assessment and processing of these deliverables. And that makes this profession unique when considering emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is commonly defined as the ability to understand one’s emotions as well as the emotions of others. This is a seemingly simple and attainable attribute one would almost expect police officers to possess… or is it?

Leadership is most effective — and maybe only truly considered leadership — when conducted through a lens of emotional intelligence. This is a key component that differentiates leaders from managers. Emotional intelligence affects leadership in organizational culture and may define the skill set of those leaders.

Using tools such as the Emotional Quotient Interview, we can see not only potential in those we look to recruit, but also identify those members with a particular skill set who we may have unintentionally overlooked that may contribute added value to the services we provide as a policing organization.


Leaders are found at every rank and unit in policing, so when tying effective leadership in with emotional intelligence, we explore how each of us may incorporate emotional intelligence into our shifts. An example of this is when we are out on the road: Do we take the time to understand our own emotions within a critical situation we may be dealing with? This is not easy in the heat of the moment. Do we reflect after a traumatic incident about our actions and their effects on those we were dealing with? Do we mull over what we did well, what we could improve on? This is a form of emotional intelligence in its simplest form.

Why is emotional intelligence important in the policing profession? Emotional intelligence is connected to job satisfaction and well-being, positive relationship pathways, employee engagement, as well as organizational commitment. All of these attributes are key for retention and especially in performing a level of policing excellence.

Let’s consider the five facets of emotional intelligence as a measure of emotional intelligence. These facets include five composites with their own subsets:

• intrapersonal (self-regard/emotional self-awareness/assertiveness/independence/self-actualization)
• interpersonal (empathy/social responsibility/interpersonal relationships)
• stress management (impulse control)
• adaptability (reality testing/flexibility/problem solving)
• general mood (happiness/optimism)

Taking the above into consideration, let’s explore who, in your mind, excels in these areas and who might be able to use some training. This is not a judgement, but a reflective opportunity.

Emotional intelligence can develop over time in members, through experience as well as with age, which may explain the value our “numerically advanced” members provide when hired later in life.

Emotional intelligence can be used as a tool in many processes. When considering our promotional measure, do we pay enough attention to this essential piece that ultimately may define a leader — as well as the culture within the organization? Perhaps our promotional questions — often delivered in competency fashion — should have measures of the emotional intelligence components. These components can be reflective of and integrated into our organizational values as well.

Emotional intelligence affects the economics of the organization. This is a big piece in policing as, from our organization, talents of our members are often overlooked or simply not utilized due to a lack of vision in opportunity. Leaders are identified, developed and tracked in organizations who practice and value emotional intelligence.

Finally, emotional intelligence has been found to be related positively to resilience, operational resilience, organizational resilience and mental health in general. Basically, the greater the member’s emotional intelligence, the more likely the member/organization/operation is to be resilient and have overall good mental health.

Moving forward as leading-edge policing organizations, we must understand the importance of leadership, culture and overall economics. We must consider emotional intelligence as a prominent component. It may support a greater overall understanding of how every leader in the policing organization should look — introspectively and outwardly — and which will then promote a collaborative, co-operative environment.


• McCutcheon, M. (2018). Emotional intelligence and organizational stress of police officers. InSight: Rivier Academic Journal, 14(1), 1.
• Turner, T. W. (2009). Understanding the benefits of emotional intelligence for officer growth and agency budgets.


Michelle Vincent recently retired from York Regional Police after 18 years. She is the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at

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