Why EQ is essential for all leaders

By Casey Miller
Apr 11, 2018
Photo credit: Vasyl Dolmatov/Thinkstock

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and leadership are two concepts so ubiquitous in workplace lexicon that they are thrown around with the assumption that: 1) we all know what they mean, and 2) we all agree on their definition.

But do we? More importantly, are we really practicing them?

Decades of behavioural research has shown that leadership and EQ cannot exist without each other - and when done correctly, they really are the same thing.

Why it can matter more than IQ

In 1995, Daniel Coleman released his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter more than IQ, and the world has never been the same. Over the past 23 years, corporate North America has gradually come to understand that it is not our intellect, experience, or education that adequately predicts how strong a team will be or why one person will succeed and another person does not. Instead, the answer has everything to do with how well we can manage our own emotions and influence the relationships around us. This is emotional intelligence.

EQ is a part of the human psyche that is fundamentally different than both intelligence and personality. Intelligence measures a person’s ability to learn, and from about 20 years onwards is a gradual downhill slope for most of us (except for our vocabularies and “wisdom” which have been shown to increase over time).

Personality is also relatively unchanging as well, with much of who we are being formed in part by nature and the other during our formative years as children. EQ, however, is a mutable set of skills that can be acquired and improved upon with practice.

The 4 cores of EQ

Expanding on Coleman’s work, in 2009 Dr. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves published what is now the go-to book for mastering emotional intelligence at home and in the workplace, aptly named Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In it, they describe emotional intelligence as having four core components:

Self-Awareness — the ability to accurately perceive emotions and stay aware of them as they happen
Self-Management — the ability to use that awareness to stay flexible and positively direct your behaviour.
Social-Awareness — the ability to accurately pick up on other’s emotions and really understand what is going on
Relationship Management — the ability to use your emotion’s and those of others to successfully manage interactions.   

Leadership on the line

Ever since my time at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where I graduated with a Master in Public Administration in 2006, I have been fascinated with the topic of leadership.  As a student, I enrolled in Ronald Heifetz’s famous Leadership on the Line course (named after his very compelling book of the same title).

On the first day of class, Professor Heifetz casually walked in the stadium seating style classroom filled with 200 high ranking, military officials, seasoned public servants, foreign diplomats and the very luck grad students like me, all listened with baited breath, Professor Heifetz was, after all, the authority on leadership at Harvard and everyone who was fortunate enough to get into his class knew it.

What would Professor Heifetz tell us about leadership? What were the golden truths that, once learned, would make some people leaders and others not? As he approached the centre of the room, Professor Heifetz somehow managed to look every one of us in the eye.

Once settled behind the main lectern, he said in a voice just louder than a whisper, “So you want to learn about leadership? Then figure it out yourselves.”  Then he turned, walked out the door and did not return that day.



What defines a leader?

In Professor Heifetz’ his absence, all 200 of us tried to figure out just how to be a leader for the other 199. From his teachings, my own experiences, and lots of reading on the topic, I have compiled characteristics that I believe leaders possess:

  • Leaders have a vision about the future that they would like to see become reality;
  • Leaders are not lone wolves. To make their future state possible, leaders recruit people;
  • Leaders are aware of both their own strengths and weaknesses -and they seek talent in areas that fortify both;
  • Leaders realize that having their must be bigger than themselves. For others to join that vision must be or become the vision of those working to achieve it. As such, leaders are, in their most fundamental sense, simply a voice to a cause;
  • Leaders rarely seek credit because the vision is the unifying goal and  credit enough; and
  • Leaders execute their visions through relationships, not power. Leaders can possess authority, but exist at all levels.

The EQ link is leadership for all

When leadership is defined as such, a leader can be anyone in the organization, not solely “someone in charge.” Moreover, since leadership requires the participation, support and buy-in from everyone recruited to make that future vision possible, it is a necessity for leaders to possess highly-developed EQ skills to motivate, persuade, and encourage those recruits.

The results of being a good leader with a high EQ is striking:

  • In 2013, a study by The Hay Group found that 44 Fortune 500 companies with sales people with high EQs produced twice the revenue of those with average or below average scores.  Undoubtedly this was from their ability to relate with others.
  • In another study, IT programmers within the top 10% percent of EQ competency were able to develop software 3x faster than those with lower EQ competency.  These impressive results were not from an innate ability to work faster, but because programmers with higher EQs were able to move past relational obstacles quicker than their lower scoring counterparts.
  • Finally, a recent study conducted by a Dallas corporation measured that the productivity amongst its highest scoring EQ employees was 20x greater than its lowest.

Of course, EQ can’t make up for IQ — an emotionally evolved grade school student is not qualified to be a surgeon. However, a high EQ can equip people with the flexibility, sensitivity, empathy, self-motivation, positivity, balance, and grace that is fundamental to any leader’s success – weather in the operating room, the boardroom, or the frontline.

Casey Miller specializes in helping organizations become places where employees are intrinsically motivated to work. His consultancy, Six and a Half, teaches organizations the six and a half pillars of leadership imperative to an engaged workforce.

Originally published in: PeopleTalk Fall 2017