Emotional Intelligence Sets Leaders Apart

There are too many examples of poor leadership in the workplace, from within all levels of organizations, and the attributes of this poor leadership are easily identified. But have you ever noticed those leaders and managers that everyone admires and who just seem to have a knack at being excellent leaders? What is this elusive quality that good leaders have that sets them apart?

According to Daniel Goleman in his book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ”, it is likely that these leaders and managers have a high Emotional Intelligence Quotient or “EQ”. These people are recognized as stars within their organization and for their ability to work with people and accomplish great things.

EQ Versus IQ

So, what is EQ? Whereas, IQ is a measure of intellectual functioning, EQ is the capacity for effectively recognizing and managing our emotions and those of others. These star leaders and managers with their high Emotional Intelligence quotients often tend to have modest traditional academic IQ’s and yet they manage people with much higher academic IQ’s. How is it possible that people with lower IQ’s are in management positions leading people with higher IQ’s?

Daniel Goleman has helped to develop an expanded view of intelligence. The narrow traditional understanding states that IQ is based mainly on verbal comprehension and problem solving. So people with good math and reading skills tend to score well on IQ. The assumption for decades was that a person with a high IQ would be successful. What Goleman’s research has shown is that a high IQ in young people was not an indicator for their success in their adult lives. In his search for what was an indicator of success in life, Goleman discovered it was Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI can be defined as those aspects of self that include: self-awareness, impulse or self-control, persistence, zeal, self-motivation, empathy and social deftness. People who have a high EI quotient are stars in their adult lives, are highly successful in the workplace and tend to have excellent interpersonal relationships.

Those people with high IQ’s and low EI quotients are usually those highly intelligent people who can be recognized as being critical, condescending, inexpressive, prone to anxiety, swept up by their intense emotions, and have poor interpersonal relationships. An organization that has leaders who have emotional deficiencies can jeopardize the health and safety of the organization.

In his book, Goleman relates the story of Melburn McBroom, who was a domineering leader, with a bad temper. The problem with this combination of emotional deficiencies was that he also happened to be an airline pilot. In 1978 as McBroom’s plane was approaching Portland, Oregon to land, he noticed a problem with the landing gear. He decided to maintain a holding pattern as he obsessed about the landing gear. His co-pilots watched as the fuel gauges approached empty, but they were so fearful of their leader’s wrath that they said nothing. The plane crashed, killing ten people. This story is told in training courses to enforce the need for teamwork, open communication, cooperation, listening, which leaders with high emotional intelligence foster.

How Important is EI to Performance?

How important is Emotional Intelligence to performance? According to John Kotter of Harvard Business School, “Because of the furious pace of change in business today, difficult to manage relationships sabotage more business than anything else—it is not a question of strategy that gets us into trouble, it is a question of emotions.”

Research tracking over 160 high performing individuals in a variety of industries and job levels revealed that emotional intelligence was two times as important in contributing to excellence than intellect and expertise alone.

What is your EQ?

What is your EI quotient and how can it be measured? There are several aspects that make up EI but some key ones are:

  • Achievement orientation
  • Self-control (ability to delay gratification)
  • Empathy
  • Teamwork
  • Self-confidence

Researchers developed a simple test that was used on four-year old children to measure their EI. The children were in their classroom and a marshmallow was put in front of each of them. The researcher told them that he needed to run an errand but when he returned, if they still had not eaten their marshmallow, they would be given a second one. The researcher left the room and was gone for more than 15 minutes. Some children resisted their impulse to eat the marshmallow but others ate the marshmallow within seconds of the researcher leaving the room. When the researcher returned those children who had resisted their impulse were rewarded with a second marshmallow.

These same children were tested again when they were adolescents. Those children, who had used delayed gratification as youngsters, were as teenagers more socially competent, personally effective and better able to handle life’s frustrations. They were found to embrace challenges and pursue them instead of giving up when difficulties arose. These children were self-reliant and trustworthy and they took the initiative with projects. They were able to delay gratification when pursuing their goals. The other children who had not delayed their gratification, were more easily upset by frustrations, felt unworthy, became paralyzed by stress, were resentful about not “getting enough”, overreacted to irritations with a sharp temper and were found to be argumentative.

Can you increase your EQ?

Is it possible to increase EQ? Most definitely yes! According to the research, although some would say a person’s IQ is set for life, it is believed that a person’s EI quotient can be developed. EI is not fixed at birth and can be nurtured and strengthened in everyone. Training in emotional competencies includes how to:

  • Listen better and help employees solve problems on their own
  • Empower and inspire others
  • Become a more effective leader

As a leader or manager, here are some things you can focus on to develop and increase your EI quotient: reading and interpreting social cues, controlling impulses, setting goals, identifying alternative actions and anticipating consequences, understanding the perspective of others and behavioural norms, having a positive attitude towards life, and developing self awareness through realistic expectations of yourself. You can also develop your verbal skills to ensure that you are making clear requests, responding effectively to criticism, resisting negative influences, listening to others, and helping others.

Many studies have shown that Emotional Intelligence greatly contributes to job performance and leadership. Competency research in over 200 companies and organizations worldwide suggests that about one-third of this difference is due to technical skill and cognitive ability while two-thirds is due to emotional competence. (Goleman, 1998). Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that the primary causes for derailment in executives involves deficits in emotional competence. The three primary ones are: difficulty in handling change, not being able to work well in a team, and poor interpersonal relations.

Therefore, leaders need a high Emotional Intelligence quotient to be successful, and the good news is, that these can be developed with training. For those of us who witness excellent leaders in action, we know now that the evasive quality that they are demonstrating to their organization is a high Emotional Intelligence Quotient. Training in handling change, working in a team and interpersonal skills can help to increase your EQ.

Janet Williams

Janet Williams, associate of Business Improvement Architects, is an experienced Business Consultant, Project Manager and Instructor. Janet specializes in Project Management and Business Process Improvement and has worked for the Public and Private Sector, including non-profit organizations.
In her consulting and project management work Janet's focus has been to help organizations navigate and manage change as they implement their strategic objectives. She assists organizations with strategic assessments, analyzing problems and providing recommendations for corrective actions. Based on the needs of the organization, Janet provides project leadership and project team support. Throughout the project life cycle Janet builds and manages effective project teams, creates solid project plans and ensures communication reaches all levels of the organization.