Leadership is often seen as an external function, characterized by decisions, actions, and outward expressions of authority. However, effective leadership stems from a profound understanding and management of one’s internal landscape. This concept, often referred to as the “inside stuff,” plays a crucial role in shaping a leader’s success, both professionally and personally. Let’s dive into what this inside stuff entails and why it’s vital for effective leadership.

Defining Leadership in Broader Terms

Leadership is not confined to corporate executives or managers. It’s about how we lead our lives, manage ourselves, set goals, and influence others in various roles—be it as a parent, partner, or community member. Leadership is about taking initiative and intentionally creating a positive forward thrust in life, guiding others along the way.

What Constitutes the Inside Stuff?

The inside stuff refers to the inner landscape—our emotions, experiences, and personal history. It’s what people can’t see but can feel through our actions and demeanor. This includes emotional intelligence, the range of emotions we feel, how we deal with them, and our resilience. Emotional intelligence (EQ) encompasses self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

The Impact of Emotional Intelligence

Self-awareness, a core component of emotional intelligence, leads to better self-control. Understanding the motivations behind our habits allows us to change them more effectively. For instance, realizing that smoking was a way to cope with unprocessed feelings helped me quit the habit.

High EQ enables leaders to bring a calming presence to their teams, manage difficult conversations, and inspire others. It enhances our ability to communicate effectively, handle conflicts, and motivate people toward collective goals. Leaders with high EQ are more thoughtful, cognizant of their actions, and better equipped to influence positive outcomes.

The Role of Personality in EQ

EQ is not determined by whether someone is extroverted or introverted. Both personality types can possess high or low EQ. Introverts may manage their energy differently but can be equally effective in connecting with others. Extroverts, while energized by interaction, need to balance their communication to avoid talking more than listening. EQ can be developed and improved over time, unlike IQ, which remains relatively static.

Practical Benefits of High EQ

Leaders with high EQ are more successful across various domains of life. They tend to be happier, healthier, and more effective in achieving their goals. Self-awareness and emotional management contribute to improved relationships, better teamwork, and enhanced personal satisfaction. The good news is that EQ can be cultivated through intentional practice and self-reflection.

The Connection Between Inside and Outside

Working on the inside stuff directly impacts external outcomes. For example, a leader struggling with team cohesion may find that personal issues, such as unresolved childhood trauma, affect their ability to connect with others. Addressing these internal challenges through self-awareness and behavioral changes can lead to better team dynamics and organizational success.

Setting Goals and Vision

Self-awareness must be paired with a clear vision to drive change. Identifying an inspired future self helps in setting intentional goals and aligning actions with personal values. This process involves reflecting on different aspects of life, including health, career, and relationships, and envisioning the best possible version of oneself.

Practical Exercise: Envisioning Your Inspired Future Self

To start this journey, try the following exercise:

  1. Find a Quiet Space: Close your eyes and take deep breaths, counting to five as you inhale and exhale. Repeat this three times to calm your mind.
  2. Visualize Your Inspired Future Self: Imagine yourself at your best—calm, happy, and successful. Picture the end of your life, your wiser elder self, and consider what this version of you would advise about what’s important now.
  3. Reflect on the Advice: Write down any insights from this visualization, focusing on what to prioritize and what to let go of in your current life.

If you’re interested in more on this topic, see my page on Positive Intelligence here.


Understanding and working on the inside stuff is crucial for effective leadership. Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in how we manage ourselves and influence others. By cultivating self-awareness, setting clear goals, and envisioning our inspired future selves, we can lead more fulfilling lives and positively impact those around us.

Elaine Morris
Executive coach and positive intelligence expert

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Elaine Morris is a master-level emotional intelligence and executive coach who brings more than 30 years of experience to upper level executives and their teams.

Elaine Morris