Original Research

Emotional intelligence in South African women leaders in higher education

Claude-Hélène Mayer, Rudolf M. Oosthuizen, Sabie Surtee
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 43 | a1405 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v43i0.1405 | © 2017 Claude-Hélène Mayer, Rudolf M. Oosthuizen, Sabie Surtee | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 August 2016 | Published: 24 February 2017

About the author(s)

Claude-Hélène Mayer, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, South Africa; Institut für Therapeutische Kommunikation, Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder), Germany
Rudolf M. Oosthuizen, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, South Africa
Sabie Surtee, Higher Education Resource Services South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa


Orientation: This study contributes to an in-depth understanding of emotional intelligence (EI) in women leaders in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in South Africa from an inside perspective.

Research purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore EI in South African women leaders working in HEIs to identify women leader’s strengths, foci and their possible areas of development. The aim is to get deeper insights in EI in women leaders because EI is associated with effective leadership qualities, creativity and innovation, as well as empathetic communication which is needed in the challenging HEI workplaces.

Motivation for the study: Emotional intelligence is an important source for women leaders to increase leadership qualities. This study is motivated by a deep interest to explore aspects of EI in women leaders in this specific professional context.

Research design, approach and method: The study uses a qualitative research design and an approach based on Dilthey’s modern hermeneutics of ‘Verstehen’ (understanding). Twenty-three women leaders of the Higher Education Research Service (HERS-SA) network were interviewed through semi-structured interviews. One researcher observed behaviour in one HEI to support the interpretation of the data. Data were analysed through content analysis.

Main findings: Findings show that women leaders mainly refer to intrapersonal emotional quotient (EQ), followed by interpersonal EQ, adaptability, stress management and, finally, general mood. The most highly rated components of EQ are self-regard, followed by interpersonal relationships, problem solving, empathy, emotional self-awareness, assertiveness, impulse control and social responsibility. Findings also provide ideas on what EQ components can be further developed.

Practical/managerial implications: New insights are provided on what components of EI should be developed in women leaders to increase overall EI, on cognitive and behavioural levels.

Contribution/value-add: This research provides new and original context-specific insights on EI in HEIs in South Africa, which can be used as a basis for future research on women leaders while providing a knowledge base for contemporary training of EI in HEIs.


emotional intelligence; self-regard; interpersonal relationships; problem solving; academia; leadership


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Crossref Citations

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doi: 10.24857/rgsa.v18n6-086