Aim To propose a reflective framework based on the perspective of emotional intelligence (EI) in nurse leadership literature. BackgroundEmotional intelligence is a self-development construct aimed at enhancing the management of feelings and interpersonal relationships, which has become increasingly popular in nurse leadership. Reflection is an established means to foster learning. Integrating those aspects of emotional intelligence pertinent to nurse leadership into a reflective framework might support the development of nurse leadership in a practical context. MethodA sample of 22 articles, retrieved via electronic databases (Ovid/Medline, BNI, psycArticles, Zetoc and CINAHL) and published between January 1996 and April 2009, was analysed in a qualitative descriptive content analysis. ResultThree dimensions that characterise emotional intelligence leadership in the context of nursing - the nurse leader as a socio-cultural architect', as a responsive carer' and as a strategic visionary' - emerged from the analysis. To enable practical application, these dimensions were contextualised into a reflective framework. ConclusionEmotional intelligence skills are regarded as essential for establishing empowering work environments in nursing. A reflective framework might aid the translation of emotional intelligence into a real-world context. Implications for nursing practiceThe proposed framework may supplement learning about emotional intelligence skills and aid the integration of emotional intelligence in a clinical environment.