In Search of High Emotional Intelligence in CEOs

Who’s on your list of emotionally intelligent CEO’s, and more importantly, why do you put them on the list?

I recently asked the first part of the question over on LinkedIn Questions, and got some really good responses. However, they were just names. I am curious why you choose the CEOs. What is it about them that shows their emotional intelligence? Is it just for show (as one respondent suggested) or is it real? Is it even desirable in a top leader? Thanks for your responses. Here is one of them:

Hilton Barbour wrote:

By this, I’m assuming you’re talking about leaders with well-developed EQ…or at least have cultivated that perception in the business media.

If you don’t believe the last two are CEO’s, consider that both were/are required to motivate a team of highly-energized, multi-functional, highly ego-driven individuals to work together to create a winning environment.

My list was based on reading about those folks in some detail over the years. My perception has been based on reading (2nd hand observation) versus working with them (1st hand) so may be somewhat biased.

As a baseline all were confronted with rather tumultuous upheavals in their businesses that required re-energizing and galvanizing a global workforce to align and move forward. Gerstner moving IBM into consultancy and away from Big Tin, Lafley driving innovation where it had stagnated, Guizetta reordering Coke after the New Coke debacle. That doesn’t happen because of sheer willpower and IQ mandates…these turnarounds ignited passion & purpose in their teams…which requires EQ.

Branson & Welch have created an aura of the celebrity CEO but many of their accomplishments were EQ-based. Virgin’s entire ethos is built on exploiting situations where customers are being held ransom (his words) and Welch implemented numerous HR-based initiatives (cycling the bottom 20% of performers) that were based on sound understanding of individual motivations.

Lombardi? Well there’s enough there for 3 more replies. Interesting post. Intrigued where this is taking you.

My response:

Thanks, Hilton, for a thoughtful response, and the type that I was really looking for. Your last question is a really good one, and it deserves an answer.

I have been hearing about EI/EQ for a long time, and my assessment partner has a set of EQ instruments that I have taken a deeper dive into. I have been reading some of the Goleman writings, especially on brain science as it relates to EI.

I am at the point where some of my initial disbelief is turning into understanding, and perhaps acceptance, but I could be swayed either way. I don’t think I quite know enough to accept or reject it, but I do have enough to avoid “flat earthing” it.

So the next question is, should CEO’s have emotional intelligence? And is it different for a hired-gun CEO running a publicly traded company vs. an owner/family CEO running a privately held company?

My experience tends towards the importance of EI in CEO/Owners rather than employed CEO’s. What are your thoughts?

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