Leadership’s Link to Emotional Intelligence
Ever wonder why some of the most brilliant, well-educated people aren’t promoted, while those with fewer obvious skills climb the professional ladder?

Chalk it up to emotional intelligence (EI), a term first coined in 1995 by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence.

In the United States, experts had assumed that high IQ was key to high performance
. Decades of research now point to EI as the critical factor that separates star performers from the rest of the pack.

Defining Emotional Intelligence

EI is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships
. It is composed of four core skills that are paired under two primary competencies: personal and social.

Personal competence includes self-awareness and self-management skills that focus on your interactions with other people.

  • Self-Awareness is your ability to perceive your emotions accurately and be aware of them as they happen.
  • Self-Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to be flexible and positively direct your behavior.

Social competence is your ability to understand other people’s moods, behavior and motives to improve the quality of your relationships.

  • Social Awareness is your ability to accurately pick up on other people’s emotions and understand what’s really going on.
  • Relationship Management is your ability to use awareness of your and others’ emotions to manage interactions successfully.

Note: There is no connection between IQ and emotional intelligence. Intelligence is your ability to learn, as well as retrieve and apply knowledge. Emotional intelligence is a flexible set of skills that can be acquired and improved with practice.

Emotional Intelligence and Performance

The higher you climb the corporate ladder and the more people you supervise, the more your EI skills come into play.

The TalentSmart consulting firm tested EI alongside 33 other important workplace skills and found it to be the strongest predictor of performance, responsible for 58% of success across all job types.

Likewise, more than 90% of top performers in leadership positions possessed a high degree of EI. On the flip side, just 20% of poor performers demonstrated high EI.

You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but it’s rare
. People with a high degree of EI make more money—an average of $29,000 more per year than those with low EI. The link between emotional intelligence and earnings is so well founded that every point increase in EI adds $1,300 to one’s annual salary.

EI and Leadership

As a leader, you set the emotional tone that others follow
. Our brains are hardwired to cue in (both consciously and unconsciously) to others’ emotional states.

People want to know how a leader feels and will synchronize with authorities they trust. When employees feel upbeat, they’ll go the extra mile to please customers. There’s a predictable business result: For every 1% improvement in the service climate, there’s a 2% increase in revenue.

The list that follows, provided by TalentSmart’s Dr. Travis Bradbury, contrasts the behaviors of high-EI vs. low-EI leaders:

Leaders with Low EI

  • Sound off even when it won’t help
  • Brush off people when bothered
  • Deny that emotions impact their thinking
  • Get defensive when challenged
  • Focus only on tasks and ignore the person
  • Are oblivious to unspoken tension

Leaders with High EI

  • Only speak out when doing so helps the situation
  • Keep lines of communication open, even when frustrated
  • Recognize when other people are affecting their emotional state
  • Are open to feedback
  • Show others they care about them
  • Accurately pick up on the room’s mood

CEOs Score Low EI

Measures of EI in half a million senior executives, managers and employees across industries, on six continents, reveal some interesting data. Scores climb with titles, from the bottom of the ladder upward toward middle management, where EI peaks. Mid-managers have the highest EI scores in the workforce. After that, EI scores plummet.

Because leaders achieve organizational goals through others, you may assume they have the best people skills. Wrong! CEOs, on average, have the lowest workplace EI scores.

Too many leaders are promoted for their technical knowledge, discrete achievements and seniority, rather than for their skills in managing and influencing others. Once they reach the top, they actually spend less time interacting with staff.

A 2001 study by Dr. Fabio Sala (www.eiconsortium.org) demonstrates that senior-level employees are more likely to have inflated views of their EI competencies and less congruence with others’ perceptions.

Sala proposes two explanations for these findings:

  • 1. It’s lonely at the top. Senior executives have fewer opportunities for feedback.
  • 2. People are less inclined to give constructive feedback to more senior colleagues.

The news media have highlighted numerous cases involving failed CEOs derailed by their low EI. You’re prone to ethical failures if you overestimate your intelligence and believe you’ll never get caught. Arrogance distorts your capacity to read situations accurately.

How to Develop EI

EI can be learned, and it seems to rise with age and maturity.

Developing your EI skills is not something you learn in school or by reading a book
. It takes training, practice and reinforcement. The first step is measurement, through behavioral-based interviews and 360-degree feedback.

Executives with little experience in receiving feedback can find this approach somewhat threatening. However, the process brings needed attention to gaps and development opportunities. It may be best to work with an executive coach when working to improve emotional intelligence.