Why a good leader needs strong emotional intelligence

Mikaela Dery


written on November 24, 2017

Research says EQ is more important than IQ as a key leadership skill. Sorry Trump.

In the early 1990’s, there was a statistic that confounded researchers. People with average IQs outperformed those with the highest IQs 70 per cent of the time. There was, they concluded, something else more important than traditional intellect that contributed to success, although what that “something” might be eluded them. Now, decades of research has confirmed what employees with difficult bosses have always known: that EQ, or emotional intelligence, is just as important as IQ in high-performing leaders. Recently, TalentSmart found that 90 per cent of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence, while just 20 per cent of bottom performers have high emotional intelligence.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman first suggested that emotional intelligence, a concept that had existed for some time but had been largely ignored in the mainstream, might be the secret sauce that influences highly effective leadership. In his essay for the Harvard Business Review in 1998 he suggested that, while IQ and other technical skills are valuable to leaders, they are “entry level requirements for executive positions.”

“My research clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership,” he says. “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.”

Researchers at TalentSmart suggest that there are four pillars of emotional intellect: self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management.

But what do these pillars really mean?

One way to understand their value is to look around us in the wider world. A tiresome, but tireless example, is US President, Donald Trump, who, despite his claims to have “one of the highest” IQs, falls short on almost all of the measures of emotional intellect – but perhaps especially so in the realm of self management.

In their assessment of EQ, Entrepreneur suggests that a person with good self management skills can “maturely reveal their emotions and exercise restraint when needed. Instead of squelching their feelings, they express them with restraint and control”. Not, for example, calling the President of an armed and hostile Nuclear state “fat” on Twitter.

Another pillar, social awareness (“your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on”) has also been demonstrably absent from current affairs closer to home. Following an enthusiastic response from the Australian public to allow marriage equality, vocal No campaigner Tony Abbott found that he had misread the view of his own electorate, who overwhelmingly voted in favour of legislation that he had vehemently opposed.

But a lack of EQ is not limited to world leaders. Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick has been widely criticised for a lack of relationship management skills after a startling display of verbal aggression in response to a complaint from one of his drivers, Fawzi Kamel. At the time, The Huffington Post suggested, “If Travis Kalanick had been able to put himself into Fawzi Kamel’s shoes, it may have allowed Kalanick to care for and better understand Kamel’s needs. Then, the conversation would have taken a different turn, giving Kalanick the opportunity to listen, ask questions, and understand”.

Self Awareness, another “pillar” of emotional intelligence, has been noticeably absent in the case of Harvey Weinstein. Entrepreneur suggest that someone with a keen sense of self awareness is both in touch with “How their actions affect others”, and is “usually better able to handle and learn from constructive criticism than one who is not”. Weinstein, apparently failed to see how his actions might impact those around him, but in his defiant response, also seemed to lack any willingness to grow both personally and professionally.

But there are ways that leaders can develop their EQ:

  • Improve listening skills. Researchers suggest being generous with your time, and letting people talking without interrupting.
  • Learn to express emotions productively. Researchers suggest that good leaders should, “Learn to identify and label emotions so that you recognise when they are present and can better deal with them”.
  • Take time to understand how, and why you make decisions. Personality tests such as the Myers Briggs can be helpful, but research says inviting the opinions of those close to you can also help you better understand and improve your own decision making process.

Build your staff’s leadership capabilities with AHRI’s customised or in-house training course “Emotionally intelligent leadership”.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

Don’t miss out on more great content like this.


2 thoughts on “Why a good leader needs strong emotional intelligence

  1. A great article! However, I disagree with your implication that Tony Abbott has low social awareness (and EQ) because he misread his electorate’s views on same-sex marriage. His views on that issue are based on his personal religious beliefs, not because he misread his electorate. He was the one who advocated for a postal plebescite on the issue (rather than politicians voting on changing the definition of marriage. ) Since the result, he came out immediately and said that he will respect the electorate’s views and won’t vote against the legislation. I would think that shows strong EQ.

    I am not a Liberal voter, but reckon if Abbott sat an EQ assessment, he’d come out with a high result.

To comment on this article please provide your name and email address. Your email address will not be available publicly.