EI versus IQ: Does emotional intelligence really contribute to success?

By Robert Half on 18th June 2018

Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence took the business world by storm. It formalised what most people already knew – that IQ was no guarantee of effectiveness in the workplace, particularly in regard to leadership. Goleman suggested that a person’s ability to understand the emotional reality of both themselves and others may be more important to success than pure brainpower ever was.

The emotional intelligence revolution

Most people took one look and said, “Of course! Why didn’t someone think of this before now?” Well, actually, they did. The first appearance of this term was as early as 1964, but it wasn’t until Goleman’s book that it became well known.

Goleman suggests there are specific competencies to EQ:

1. Self EQ: This refers to the ability to understand and work with our own emotions, including knowing your emotions, managing them and motivating yourself. Goleman calls this self-awareness, self-regulation and self-motivation.

2. Other EQ: This is the ability to recognise other people’s emotions and manage relationships. It includes social awareness, social skills, leadership and conflict management – among others.

Since then emotional intelligence has been integrated into virtually every business course, book, training, blog and workplace. What appeared to be a radical new concept is now considered a core component of business thinking. Emotional-intelligence quotient, or EQ, can be drilled down to it's simplest form as good old-fashioned people skills – the ability to understand what makes people (including yourself) tick and use that knowledge to get the best result. It's these effective interpersonal skills that can make a real difference. Those who have them prosper, and those who don’t, usually struggle. The good news is that – unlike IQ – EQ is a learnable skill.

But it is true? Is emotional intelligence really the bee’s knees of business wisdom? Most studies say yes. Emotional intelligence is positively correlated with more effective leadership, teamwork, sales skills, customer service and productivity. Those who have it generally do better than those who don’t, except in some specialist fields that require a high degree of abstract thinking like science.

Does emotional intelligence contribute to success?

Well, yes. According to a study by Swinburne University, high EQ predicted effective leadership. In another study published by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) in the US found that emotional incompetence was the primary contributor to executive derailments. Numerous other studies also find a link between EQ and workplace performance. This makes sense when you consider what EQ can do for you.

The ability to understand and regulate your own emotions helps you stay calm under pressure, and staying calm means staying rational and making the right decisions. You also model this to your colleagues, helping them stay calm and effective as well. This generates confidence all around, which can make the difference between succeeding or crashing in a crisis.

Similarly, the ability to understand your colleagues’ emotions and motivations puts you in the driver’s seat, particularly if you are in a leadership role. Having empathy for your colleagues builds trust and commitment, and being able to cultivate their intrinsic motivators and abilities makes you one of those leaders who people just want to work for.

This is because our emotions really are in charge when it comes to motivation. Few people realise this, but it’s through our emotions that our bodies motivate us to fulfil our needs. Fear, sadness, anger, shame, guilt and even hatred are all working to keep us safe, achieve our goals, assert our boundaries and remain connected to our social group.

Great leaders intuitively understand that loyalty, commitment and hard work can’t be required – they must be given willingly, and that happens only when the person giving them believes that their boss really cares about who they are and what they need.

Having good IQ and relevant skills and competencies is still important, but few of us work in isolation, so EQ is the skill that really makes you effective in the workplace. A great many successful leaders weren’t particularly good at the tasks of their industry, but they were great at getting other people to perform.

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