Intelligence or Emotional Intelligence – What Matters Most for Leaders Today?

Marielena Sabatier, CEO, Inspiring Potential

You may have heard that Emotional intelligence (EQ) is twice as important as Intelligence Quotient (IQ) for successful leaders, but what does that mean?

The term Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was first used by Daniel Goleman who conducted research at nearly 200 large, global companies and found that while qualities traditionally associated with leadership – such as intelligence, determination and vision – are necessary for success, they are not enough on their own. Truly effective leaders also have a high degree of emotional intelligence which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and social skill.

TalentSmart, a provider of emotional intelligence tests, found that of all the people they’ve tested, 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence. Conversely, just 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. They also identified a strong link between emotional intelligence and earnings, finding that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary. This was found to be true across all industries, at all levels and in every region in the world.

Very intelligent leaders with low emotional intelligence do not make the best leaders. Leaders with a high IQ understand concepts and ideas very quickly, and expect others to understand them at the same pace. They get frustrated when people don’t understand them, but they also don’t want to take the time to help others understand because of the fear of being condescending or pedantic.

Another common problem with highly intelligent leaders is that they believe that they are always right and therefore they don’t listen to the people working for them.

They don’t request input from their teams and so disempower people by telling them the most efficient path to achieve the outcome. Then they complain that nobody takes initiative. Imagine the employee who takes initiative and is then told that their idea is not good or not welcomed because the boss knows best.

These high IQ leaders have often been given feedback that they need to delegate, but they complain that people don’t deliver, and that it’s quicker to do it themselves. They fail to see the long term value of developing others.

They are also surprised when people find them volatile or emotional as they think of themselves as highly logical people. They don’t notice how their frustration (of others being so slow) leaks through in their language and behaviour.

As people move up through an organisation, it is important to deliver results through others. In order to do that, leaders must inspire people to do their best, to go the extra mile, and that means conquering not only their minds, but their hearts. If not, these leaders end up working around the clock because they don’t know how to get others to perform as required, and they still think that they will be quicker. As a result, they could end up burnt out or unable to manage their emotions effectively and neither outcome is desirable.

Such leaders aren’t clear about how their behaviour impacts others, because they are so focused on being efficient and on achieving the outcome, they miss the big picture.

They know how to get results when they have the power of authority and a team they can tell what to do. But what happens when they have to influence others, without legitimate power? They often think that logic will get them the outcomes they want but they are baffled when people reject their proposals or don’t do as they request.

Leaders who are emotionally intelligent on the other hand can be dumb or smart, but because they know themselves and understand their strengths and weaknesses, they surround themselves with the right team. They know that many heads work better than just one, no matter how bright that one head is. They are humble and curious about what other people think.

They are aware of how their behaviour impacts people. They know that people like to feel valued and respected. They also know that investing their own time in people’s development will pay back dividends in terms of loyalty, effort and performance.

Although some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, emotional intelligence can be developed.

Top Tips To Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

• Slow down, take the time to explain your ideas to others.

• Ask questions, ask for feedback, and listen to the answers with an open mind.

• Observe yourself and pay attention to when you feel negative emotions. They are usually some kind of sign. If you are frustrated, ask yourself why? If you have explained the same thing three times, and they don’t get it – take responsibility. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is Einstein’s definition of insanity. Think about how to explain it differently, so they understand. Don’t change the outcome, change the methodology.

• Observe other people’s reaction to your behaviour, and instead of blaming them for their reaction, ask yourself, what could you have done differently? People responded to the message they heard, not to what you intended to say. 


• Be more empathetic and try to understand how other people feel. It doesn’t mean that you have had to experience what they are going through, but you may have experienced the same emotion for a different reason. For example, someone is trying to quit smoking, and you may think they are idiots, haven’t they seen the statistics? But you may also be trying to lose weight, and also find it hard. So instead of judging them for the actual action, empathise with them on the difficulty of not eating or smoking when you want. 


• Communicate a vision that is inspiring, that is not only logical, but that creates an emotional attachment.

Inspiring Potential