Daniel Goleman: Let’s Not Underrate Emotional Intelligence

  • “Passionate engineers or myopic entrepreneurs often lack certain EQ, but EQ is an indispensable trait of leaders that grow and scale companies,” observes a seasoned executive.
  • “Normally agree with you, but you couldn’t be any more wrong on this. The LACK of emotional intelligence by management is a huge gap right now,” says a marketing consultant.
  • “Don’t ignore the negative effect on teams of a leader with low emotional intelligence,” objects a web designer.

All these comments are responses to an acerbic take-down of emotional intelligence on LinkedIn by Adam Grant. To be sure, many commentators agree with his points. But I don’t take Grant’s arguments very seriously. As these voices from the front lines attest, the blog’s critique misses the mark.

Anyone whose daily job makes her think about great performance will tell you emotional intelligence matters. And yet some academics doubt it matters much at all.

There are two realities going on here: the Ivory Tower world of academia, and the rubber-hits-the-road world of the workplace. Academia plays by a different set of rules of proof than do folks in the business world: what gets published in peer-reviewed journals, versus what actually works.

And therein lies the significant difference in these contrasting views of emotional intelligence. Academics are fastidious about their research methods, and analyze their data to see, for example, which variables correlate at what strength.

Someone in business has a more urgent question: What should I do Monday morning? How can I spot the top performers? What skills and competencies should we help people improve?

Let’s look more closely at the relationship between IQ and emotional intelligence. A century of IQ research shows intelligence predicts what job you can get. But once you’re in that position, everyone else you work with will have passed the same IQ requirement. Other abilities actually determine outstanding performance – especially emotional intelligence.

Still, if a computer can model everything you do in your job, emotional intelligence probably will not make or break your daily effectiveness. But even if you are a solo bench engineer coming up with a better widget, no one will pay attention to you unless you can communicate, persuade, and excite people about that widget – and that takes emotional intelligence.

Additionally, there are many assessments of emotional intelligence. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and some are best for a particular purpose like hiring, promotion, or development. The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence has evaluated the best ones.

The emotional intelligence assessment Grant chose to report on in his blog is based on the model most preferred in academia. It comes from the world of intelligence testing, and was designed to show that there are human abilities in the emotional realm that differ from IQ. (Though this might seem just like common sense, it has important theoretical meaning in the realm of psychological testing).

A different kind of assessment of emotional intelligence derives from personality tests. And a third starts with what matters in business: the competencies that make one person a star, and another mediocre.

A telling study looked at all the data on these three different varieties of emotional intelligence as predictors of job performance. It found that if you used measures of emotional intelligence from the second or third categories, you can measure how EQ enhances performance – but not if you used the measure cited in Grant’s article.

Maybe if you work entirely alone, and do not need to cooperate, influence, or empathize with anyone, a high IQ suffices for success.

But as one astute commentator on that blog put it: “People who do not have the right emotional skill set do not make it in the very professions you indicated that emotional intelligence is not required” – that is, engineering, accounting and science. He adds, “I would highly recommend speaking to professionals in the fields you mention before you write an article about what is important to them.”

Additional resources on developing emotional intelligence:

American Management Association’s course Leading with Emotional Intelligence

What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings

Resonant Leadership: Inspiring Others Through Emotional Intelligence

Now you can easily incorporate lessons from Leadership: A Master Class into your trainings with new comprehensive, customizable materials. View a sample .pdf of the training guide here.

Illustration: Bryant Paul Johnson