Insights Blog

By Holly Valovick
on Nov 4, 2017
  • Leadership Development
Emotional Intelligence & Leadership

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others, and to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving. The term was first used in 1990 in a research paper by two psychology professors – John D. Mayer from UNH and Peter Salovey from Yale – and was subsequently applied to business leadership in 1998 by Daniel Goleman, a former New York Times science reporter who is a psychologist and co-director of a consortium at Rutgers University to foster research on the role emotional intelligence plays in excellence.

In the Harvard Business Journal, Goleman wrote: "The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It's not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but...they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won't make a great leader."

The current tool used to measure emotional intelligence (EI) is called the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, an ability test that asks people to solve emotion problems. Results indicate that leaders who are high in EI may be better equipped to develop stronger teams and to communicate more effectively with others, building a real social fabric within an organization and between an organization and those it serves. High levels of EI create climates in which information-sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish. The manager who can think about emotions accurately and clearly may often be better able to anticipate, cope with, and effectively manage change.

In his article, "How to be Emotionally Intelligent," Goleman describes leaders who have high EI as possessing:

  • Self-awareness
    • Realistic self-confidence: they understand their own strengths and limitations, operating from competence and knowing when to rely on someone else on the team
    • Emotional insight: they understand their feelings; for example, being aware of what makes them angry can help them manage that anger
  • Self-management
    • Resilience: they stay calm under pressure and recover quickly from upsets; in a crisis, people look to the leader for reassurance
    • Emotional balance: they keep any distressful feelings in check; instead of blowing up at people, they let them know what's wrong and what the solution is
    • Self-motivation: they keep moving toward distant goals despite setbacks
  • Empathy
    • Cognitive and emotional empathy: because they understand other perspectives, they can put things in ways colleagues comprehend, and welcome their colleagues' questions
    • Good listening: they pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what that person is saying, without talking over them or hijacking the agenda
  • Relationship skills
    • Compelling communication: they put their points in persuasive, clear ways so that people are motivated, as well as clear about expectations

Interestingly, an analysis done by Travis Bradberry, the co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, found that EI scores climbed with titles from the bottom of the corporate ladder upward toward middle management. Middle managers stood out with the highest EI scores in the workplace; moving beyond middle management, however, the scores dropped quickly, with CEOs, on average, having the lowest EI scores in the workplace.

Bradberry writes that companies generally focus on metrics to make hiring and promotion decisions, or promote leaders for their knowledge and tenure, rather than their skill in inspiring others to excel. Once promoted, he continues, these executives' EI declines even further, as they spend less time in meaningful interaction with their staff and lose sight of how their emotional states impact those around them.

Not to fear, though, Bradberry advises that a person's EI is completely under his or her control, and can be thoughtfully improved. His suggestions for growth:

  • Acknowledge other people's feelings: it isn't necessary to always "fix" other people's feelings; instead, ask team members about their strong emotions, listen well, and validate them
  • When you care, show it: appreciate good work from team members, as praise builds loyalty and inspires people to work harder
  • Watch your emotions like a hawk: slow down and take note of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors just as a situation unfolds
  • Sleep: self-control, attention, and memory abilities are reduced with lack of sleep, and stress hormones are increased
  • Suppress negative self-talk: dwelling on negative thoughts gives them power; instead, write them down to better evaluate their truth