Why Emotional Intelligence Is a Key Leadership Trait

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on June 12, 2018

Is emotional intelligence (emotional quotient) more important than IQ in one’s success? Are street smarts more important than book smarts?

In a 2004 Harvard Business Review article, “Leading by Feel,” University of New Hampshire psychologist John D. Mayer wrote, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions.”

In a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes a Leader?,” Rutgers University professor Daniel Goleman wrote, “The most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities’; that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. But my research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. 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.”

Based on my own experiences, working for and observing both effective and ineffective leaders, I would agree with Goleman that “without … [emotional intelligence], 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.”

In his article, Goleman identifies five components of EQ. These are:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others.
  • Self-regulation: The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods. The propensity to suspend judgment – to think before acting.
  • Motivation: A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status.
  • Empathy: The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. Skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions.
  • Social Skill: Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks. An ability to find common ground and build rapport.

How do these five components of EQ translate into a leader’s day-to-day interactions and effectiveness with the people they deal with? I would like to share with you, based on my experience interacting with others, seven EQ behavioral rules that will contribute to your leadership effectiveness.

1.   Recognize how others perceive you.

All individuals should perceive how their words, body language, verbal tone and actions are read by others. If the way they are being read is a way not desired or effective, he or she should change. One can tell how they are being perceived by other people’s subtle or not so subtle cues.

2.   Don’t communicate with others in a way that puts them on the defensive.

Communicate in a way so people feel respected and valued. Don’t criticize others in public. If you need to give them negative feedback, do it in private. Don’t waste your personal capital correcting individuals on minor irrelevant misstatements of fact. If a correction is necessary, do it in a way so that the individual maintains their dignity and you are not showing how smart you are.

3.   When a direct report shares an idea or proposes a new initiative, listen.

Don’t accept or reject an idea out of hand before vetting it. Show respect by discussing the idea with the direct report, asking them questions on how it might be implemented, its impact and if there could be any unintended consequences.

It’s better to have them reach their own conclusion through dialogue rather than you prematurely tell them what you think. After a dialogue, you both might have new positions, or discover an alternative that is more effective than the original idea.

4.   Base your decisions on what is best for the business and your customers.

Never make a business decision based on personal considerations. It undermines your credibility within the organization and might lead to a bad decision. You don’t want the organization to question your judgment or to think you are advantaging yourself of playing favorites by promoting people based on personal considerations.

When promoting or appointing people to leadership positions, ensure they have the requisite experience and skills to ensure their credibility and success. When you don’t, it’s a bad reflection on you.

5.   Take the blame if it’s your fault. Give credit where credit is due.

Everyone makes mistakes. Own up to yours. You will be a much more effective and respected leader if you do. Publicly acknowledge the successes of others. It will motivate them to continue to succeed. And, never throw people under the bus. It destroys trust and any respect people within your organization might have for you.

6.   Avoid being an imperial leader.

When negotiating with others, making threats to get what you want rarely works. People don’t like to be bullied. It strengthens their resolve. There are more effective ways to meet your objectives while maintaining good relationships, which is to your advantage in future negotiations. People have long memories, and you may need their support in the future.

7.   Don’t self-aggrandize.

Avoid telling everyone how great you are, compared to your predecessors. Don’t blame them for their decisions that you disagree with for the purpose of boosting your own perceived standing. Narcissistic, insecure people do this. It does nothing to win the hearts and minds and earn the respect of your organization and the other people you deal with. It makes you look bad.

So, practice street smarts and perceive how others see you. Lead like you would like to be led and treat people like you would like to be treated. Follow these emotional intelligence rules for leadership and business success.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.