Emotional Intelligence and Work-Life Balance

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Marissa-Trevisan-Leadership-Institute-Blog-Series-Banner

Leadership Institute: A Year of Advancement

Leadership Institute: A Year of Advancement, is an ongoing series that shares the experiences of our 15 cohort members as they focus on developing their leadership and management skills through monthly workshops.

Emotional Intelligence and Work-Life Balance

This month, the YNPN Leadership cohort was joined by influential leadership and career coach, Sherry Woodry, PCC. Sherry walked us through two essential topics in the realm of leadership and nonprofit work—emotional intelligence and work-life balance. During the session, we were presented with useful strategies and reflective questions that will surely prove helpful in both a professional and personal capacity.

Emotional Intelligence

According to Ben Palmer, Ph.D, “Emotional Intelligence is the skill of perceiving and understanding one’s own feelings and the feelings of others, expressing your own feelings and emotions, considering other people’s feelings when making decisions, and managing your emotions.” Many successful leaders have reached the apex of achievement in large part due to their emotional intelligence (EQ) rather than their IQ.

The ability to manage ourselves and our relationships with others plays an integral role in leadership and requires self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy and social skills. A person who excels at self-management is able to control disruptive impulses. For example, instead of responding immediately to a stressful stimulus using a reactionary response, the self-managed person will wait seven seconds to think before making a decision and will fare far better with a more composed, intentional response.  

Sherry emphasized that the most effective leaders take time for reflection, allowing them to notice patterns and recognize where strengths and weaknesses exist.

Reflection is not only a tool for effective leadership, but it is also a quality of mindfulness. Engaging in the practice of mindfulness is one way to reduce stress and support a healthier overall mindset, which brings us to the topic of work-life balance.

Work-Life Balance

The prevalence of smart phones has made the quest for work-life balance increasingly unattainable over the last decade. Everyone is ostensibly accessible at all times. Establishing clear boundaries and expectations around work email use after hours, on weekends and during vacation is imperative. We need to give ourselves permission to disconnect, refresh, and dedicate time and energy to other facets of life. Several cohort participants shared their own struggles with this particular issue.

During our session, we also covered the following:

1) Stress
2) How to take a more mindful approach
3) How to take action to improve work-life balance

Many Americans are operating under extreme levels of stress, and an even larger majority of Americans feel over-committed. Seeking a work-life balance or compromise is crucial to prevent burnout and maximize overall fulfillment.

Mindfulness is a productive approach to assuaging our continuously overwhelmed and overstimulated state.  Deep breathing, meditating and journaling are a few activities that can help us practice mindfulness.

Asking — When was I at my best? — is another valuable exercise. Sherry encouraged us to identify what was going on at times we’ve been at our best—physically, mentally, socially, spiritually, etc.  How well were we connected to a sense of purpose?

From an action standpoint, it is important to ask the following questions:

1) What can I change from my current routine to help me achieve a greater balance?
2) What can I add (something new) to help me achieve a greater balance?
3) What can I do to improve a specific relationship in my life?
4) How can I be more aligned with my sense of purpose?

Once we’ve had a chance to reflect on these questions, the next step is to commit to action. If you identify something that you’d like to add or change to your regimen, keep in mind that psychology research shows you must change your behavior for several weeks before a habit forms. Whether you are establishing a routine of self-management, journaling or exercise, it’s all about consistency.

Outcomes and EQ are optimized when we take care of ourselves, and sometimes that means saying “no” to yet another commitment. Self-care is extremely important to promote well-being and prevent burnout, especially in the nonprofit sector. Sherry said it best when she posed the question, “How can I make more conscious choices to feel more balanced in life?” Whatever approach we choose, it’s important to check in with ourselves on a regular basis.


Marissa is the Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Chicago-based national nonprofit Innovations for Learning (IFL). In this role, Marissa’s responsibilities include strengthening, broadening and diversifying funding support in 23 major cities through foundation, corporate and individual giving. After receiving a B.A. in Psychology from Wesleyan University, Marissa served in the Peace Corps in El Salvador as a Youth Development Volunteer. A native Bostonian, Marissa then returned to Boston, where she worked as a Therapeutic Caseworker at a local social services agency. She then transitioned to a small nonprofit with a focus on corporate social responsibility and community engagement, where she served as Director of Partner Engagement. A strong advocate for social justice and inclusivity, Marissa is always looking for new ways to get involved, learn more and bring awareness to social causes in both the local and global communities. A Chicago resident since 2015, Marissa is a member of the Chicago Literacy Alliance and a Child Advocate at The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

Learn more about the 2017 Leadership Institute Cohort here