The Relevance / Importance of Emotional Quotient in Leaders

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about Emotional Quotient (EQ) or Emotional Intelligence (EI), in particular the importance of having a high EQ for relationship and career success. The term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was first coined in the 60’s and came into common usage following the publication in 1995 of Daniel Goleman’s influential book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ. While the terms EQ and EI are interchangeable, EQ is a measure of our self-awareness and knowledge, and our ability to feel empathy and display sensitivity towards others. Just as an IQ test is used to measure intelligence, EQ tests are used to measure emotional intelligence.

Since the publication of Goleman’s book, the importance of EQ in the workplace has been the subject of much interest, with research in the States showing that as little as 10 to 25% of career success can be attributed to IQ, and a whopping 75 to 90% to EQ. It makes sense then to conclude that people who want to succeed in leadership positions either need to have or be able to develop a high EQ.

Just how valid is the claim that emotional intelligence and leadership potential are linked? In 2003 Malcolm Higgs and Paul Aitken studied a group of 40 New Zealand senior public servants, and found some evidence to support the relationship between their levels of EQ and their leadership ability. It is reassuring to note that Higgs and Aitken also found that the “technology” organisations use to measure emotional intelligence (such as assessment centres) had a high degree of reliability.

In general terms EI can be distilled into two main concepts: self‐awareness and emotional management. Goleman’s original model also includes internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. Arguably the most important of these components is the ability to empathise. Individuals, corporations and organisations lacking in empathy – both for their workforce and their customers – are almost sure to run into problems, especially around reputation. Employers are increasingly coming to realise that these problems can be pre-empted or corrected by recruiting leaders with high emotional intelligence.

You might think that notions of EQ and EI lack scientific rigour, but neuroscientists have recently discovered a physiological basis for empathy. When we observe the actions of other people, multiple systems in the brain called mirror neurons reflect the actions back to us causing a mimic effect. So when we notice someone is sad, we too will feel sad to a certain extent, and when people around us are happy, it makes us happy too. Basically, our mirror neurons connect us to the feelings of the people around us, including colleagues and staff, as well as friends and family.  Depending on how well tuned these mirror neurons are explains why some people are naturally very empathetic while others have almost no empathy at all. It also explains why many people believe that great leaders are born not made. While the jury is still out on whether empathy can be taught (medical training is a good example), some organisational experts believe it is possible as long as people can be trained to identify and overcome their roadblocks to empathy.

 Leading with your heart

Tracey Crossley of the Huff Post expands Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence criteria to: compassion; good communication; a sense of humour; authenticity, respect; confidence; intuition; creativity; and, perhaps most important of all, leading with the heart. What I would add to this list is courage, because it sometimes takes guts to be all those things in workplaces where the primary focus is productivity rather than creating a healthy emotional environment. But even with our mirror neurons firing on all cylinders, it seems a no-brainer that when leaders possess the qualities that Crossley identifies then high performance and great outcomes from a happy and engaged workforce are the natural result.

What your thoughts?  Is there any other qualities that you would add to EI to ensure a happy and engaged workforce?

Comments welcome 🙂

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