The Case for Emotional Intelligence in Leaders

Should we be concerned about how a leader’s emotional intelligence shows up (or not)? After reading the Steve Job biography, I’ve become curious about the impact of a leader’s style on business results.

I’ve been hearing about EI/EQ for a long time, and my assessment partner has a set of EQ instruments that I’ve investigated. I’ve also been reading Goleman’s The Brain and Emotional Intelligence, and some of my initial disbelief is turning into understanding, and perhaps acceptance. But I’m still not convinced.

So my question is, should we be concerned about a CEO’s emotional intelligence? And is EQ importance any 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 lending greater importance to EI in CEO/Owners rather than employed CEO’s. What are your thoughts?

Here’s some of the research that supports the theory that emotional intelligence contributes to better leadership, from the work of Daniel Goleman.

When Goleman analyzed data on which types of leadership competencies contributed to high performance, he found that IQ was a key driver of success. Cognitive skills such as big-picture thinking and long-term vision were particularly important. But when he calculated the ratio of technical skills and IQ to emotional intelligence as ingredients of excellence, EI proved to be twice as important as others for jobs at all levels.

Moreover, his analysis showed that EI played an increasingly important role at the highest levels of a company, where differences in technical skills were of negligible importance.

In other words, the higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence showed up as the reason for his or her effectiveness. When he compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership positions, nearly 90 percent of the competencies that distinguished outstanding performers was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than purely cognitive abilities.

Other researchers have since confirmed these findings. David McClelland, the Harvard psychologist and expert on motivation,  found that when senior managers had a critical mass of emotional intelligence capabilities, their divisions outperformed yearly earnings goals by 20 percent.

This makes a solid case for the importance in developing emotional intelligence for improving leadership capabilities. But how? I’m still reading and researching this. Let me get back to you.

I’d love to hear your take on this. I’m still thinking that the CEO of a family or privately owned business encounters emotional issues more intensely than a hired gun in a large corporation. What are your thoughts?

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