EQ Is Giving IQ a Run for Its Money: Why Being Emotionally Intelligent May Be More Important Than Being Smart

Emotional Intelligence, or EQ (Emotional Quotient) as it is commonly called, emerged as a hot topic back in the mid-1980s. Yet, today EQ is more relevant than it’s ever been in the business world. People no longer want to work for someone who’s all brain and no heart. The twenty-first-century workforce wants to be led by executives who excel equally at navigating through a crisis and creating emotional connections. They want to work for people who act like real feeling, hearing, seeing beings – not one-track-minded automatons. They want experiences with real leaders that matter and make a difference in their growth and development.

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But are we getting what we want in our leaders? Huffington Post’s “Why Leaders Lack Emotional Intelligence” features a bar graph that is worth a thousand words. The chart depicts the level of emotional intelligence (EQ) as it relates to job title. I was relieved to see a nice jump in EQ when the title progressed from individual contributor to supervisor and manager. But that’s as good as it got. As the titles continued to go up in status, the EQ levels plummeted.

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Sadly, I’m not shocked by this graph. It’s a topic I’ve spoken and written about in the past: the more powerful you become, the more successful you become, the less empathetic you become as well. Simply put, the most important leaders seem to be severely lacking in emotional intelligence.

In fact, neuroscience has proven that when we as leaders get promoted and our responsibility grows, it changes the way we think – diminishing our ability to be empathetic. It gets harder and harder to see and feel what other people see and feel. As leaders, when power goes to our heads, it may disconnect our hearts. And leaders without empathy, without the ability to connect with their people, are doomed. Or at the very least, they have a huge obstacle to overcome in order to achieve success. Because our organizations are most poised to succeed when we have people who believe in the big picture … are engaged, motivated, and dedicated to putting forth not only effort, but extra, discretionary effort. When a leader lacks emotional intelligence, this just will not happen.

The EQ muscle must be a priority. We’ve got to exercise it regularly – or it’s at risk for atrophy. Here are the five things you need to do to elevate your EQ starting NOW!

  1. Eliminate ego. The presence of ego, pride, and the need to always “be right” quickly erodes your EQ. When you feel the need to routinely prove yourself or defend your leadership territory, your ability to display empathy – and the desire to seek out the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others – is lost to your fear of not being the best. Executives who find a way to keep their egos in check, who consciously practice humility, and who always strive to listen more and talk less are able to maintain high EQ levels. These are the people others respect, trust, and want to be led by.
  2. Focus on others. Leaders with high emotional intelligence know “it’s not about me – it’s about my people.” These leaders have a profound commitment to discovering the best ways to engage and liberate the passions and ideas of the people they’re leading. They know the only route to success is through their employees, and this only happens when they turn the focus outward instead of inward.
  3. Create a shared vision. You can have the greatest strategy in the world, but if you haven’t empowered your people to share that vision, then you’ve lost before you’ve even begun. The best leaders have the emotional know-how to successfully engage their people’s minds and hearts – ensuring everyone feels a connection to the shared mission. Your people must be involved in the process and you can’t (and shouldn’t be) the sole driver. A great leader’s job is to unite and excite everyone … and then keep them committed for the long term, facilitating solutions to challenges that arise on the journey.
  4. Practice the “return receipt” principle. Just like you ask for a return receipt when sending an important package, leaders with high EQs constantly confirm that their messages were received as intended. These leaders realize it takes more than a memo, webinar, or other one-off tactic to get people on board with a new strategy or initiative. They know that emotions and behaviors are intimately connected and therefore ensure a robust feedback loop – where they actively solicit the opinions and feelings of others – is part of the process. Always.
  5. Get personal. I once knew a great CFO who was promoted to CEO. He was more than qualified, but was unable to connect with his people. Employees didn’t think he cared about them or the business. When he was told that he wasn’t connecting with his people (at all) – he took a chance and did something out of his comfort zone – he spoke from the heart. He revealed that his family had a multi-generation tradition of avoiding emotions at all costs. He told everyone that despite his subdued demeanor, he cared, deeply, and was committed to each employee and the business at large. This changed everything. By sharing his story – by getting personal – and then showcasing his passion for the organization, the company rallied behind him. Bottom line: always, always show who you really are and what you care about. People respond to that in earth-shattering ways.

Nurturing your emotional intelligence takes time and commitment. One of the best examples of why balancing emotions and intellect is so important is illustrated in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the leadership book by Chip and Dan Heath. The first chapter recounts an analogy originally used by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in which our emotional side is compared to an elephant and our rational (intellectual) side is the elephant’s rider. Although the rider is mentally superior to the elephant, it’s clear that he or she can easily be overruled by the sheer power of the elephant. The same can be said about a CEO and his or her employees. The rider (or CEO) can’t simply call the shots and expect the elephant (or employees) to obey. They must work together … to trust each other … in order to accomplish anything.

In my mind, this analogy says it all. Emotions and intelligence are both essential to success – in life and in business. Our emotions motivate us to fight for our beliefs, enable us to have compassion toward others, and so much more. The key is to marry both sides of our personalities and never let one overshadow the other. When emotions and intellect work in concert, and when leaders remain committed to strengthening their EQ, the most powerful things can happen.