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EQ Vs IQ in Leadership

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

What is more important in determining life success—book smarts or street smarts? This question gets at the heart of an important debate contrasting the relative importance of cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ).




“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.” Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships


Proponents of so-called "book smarts" might suggest that IQ plays the most critical role in determining how well people fare in life. Those who advocate for the importance of what might be called "street smarts" would instead suggest that EQ is even more important.

So, which one is it?


In his book Emotional Intelligence, author and psychologist Daniel Goleman suggested that EQ (or emotional intelligence quotient) might be more important than IQ because the standard measures of intelligence as we know them (i.e. IQ scores) are too narrow and do not encompass the full range of human intelligence.


Many psychologists like Howard Gardner, for example, have suggested that there are multiple intelligences in many different areas and that people may have strengths in.

Instead of focusing on a single intelligence or a just one area some experts believe that the ability to understand and express emotions can play an equal, if not more important role in how successful they are in their life.


IQ is centred on abilities such as:

  • Visual and spatial processing

  • Knowledge of the world

  • Fluid reasoning

  • Working memory and short-term memory

  • Quantitative reasoning


EQ is centred on abilities such as:

  • Identifying emotions

  • Perceiving and Evaluating how others feel

  • Controlling one's own emotions

  • Using emotions to facilitate social communication

  • Relating to others


IQ is recognised as an important element of success, particularly when it comes to academic achievement, people with high IQ typically do well in school, often earn more money, and tend to be healthier in general.


However, experts now understand that IQ is not the only determinant of life success. Instead, it is part of a complex array of influences—one that includes emotional intelligence. Many companies now mandate emotional intelligence training and use EQ tests as part of the hiring process.


Research has found that individuals with strong leadership potential also tend to be more emotionally intelligent, suggesting that a high EQ is an important quality for business leaders and managers.


Emotional abilities can also influence the choices that consumers make when confronted with buying decisions. People would rather deal with a person that they trust and like rather than someone they do not, even if that means paying more for an inferior product.


Can Emotional Intelligence Be Learned?

According to most recent research that looked at the results of social and emotional learning programs, the answer to that question is an unequivocal yes.


Strategies for teaching EQ includes character education, modelling positive behaviours, encouraging people to think about how others are feeling and finding ways to be more empathetic toward others.


Researchers suggest that there are four different levels of emotional intelligence including emotional perception, the ability to reason using emotions, the ability to understand emotions, and the ability to manage emotions.


  1. Perceiving emotions: The first step in understanding emotions is to perceive them accurately. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.

  2. Reasoning with emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritise what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.

  3. Understanding emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of the person's anger and what it could mean. For example, if your boss is acting angry, it might mean that they are dissatisfied with your work, or it could be because they got a speeding ticket on their way to work that morning or that they've been fighting with their partner.

  4. Managing emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a crucial part of emotional intelligence and the highest level. Regulating emotions and responding appropriately as well as responding to the emotions of others are all important aspects of emotional management.


The four branches of this model are arranged by complexity with the more basic processes at the lower levels and the more advanced processes at the higher levels. For example, the lowest levels involve perceiving and expressing emotion, while higher levels require greater conscious involvement and involve regulating emotions.



Three components of EQ:


Thinking Before Reacting

Emotionally intelligent people know that emotions can be powerful, but also temporary. When a highly charged emotional event happens, such as becoming angry with a co-worker, the emotionally intelligent response would be to take some time before responding. This allows everyone to calm their emotions and think more rationally about all the factors surrounding the argument.


Greater Self-Awareness

Emotionally intelligent people are not only good at thinking about how other people might feel but they are also adept at understanding their own feelings. Self-awareness allows people to consider the many different factors that contribute to their emotions.


Empathy for Others

A large part of emotional intelligence is being able to think about and empathise with how other people are feeling. This often involves considering how you would respond if you were in the same situation.


Leaders who have strong EQ are able to consider the perspectives, experiences, and emotions of their employees and use this information to explain why certain decision are made and the impact these decisions are likely to have on them and other stakeholders. Leaders with high EQ have better relationships, improved well-being and stronger communication skills.



How to Use EQ


Emotional intelligence can be used in many different ways. Some different ways to practice emotional intelligence include:


  • Being able to accept criticism and responsibility

  • Being able to move on after making a mistake

  • Being able to say no when you need to

  • Being able to share your feelings with others

  • Being able to solve problems in ways that work for everyone

  • Having empathy for other people

  • Having great listening skills

  • Knowing why you do the things you do

  • Not being judgemental of others


Having lower emotional intelligence skills can lead to a number of potential pitfalls that can affect multiple areas of life including work and relationships.


People who have fewer emotional skills tend to get into more arguments, have lower quality relationships, and have poor coping skills. However, although being low on EQ can have several drawbacks, having a very high level of EQ can also come with some challenges.


For example:


  • Research suggests that people with extremely high EQ may actually be less creative and innovative;

  • Highly emotionally intelligent people may have a hard time delivering negative feedback for fear of hurting other people's feelings;

  • Research has found that high EQ can sometimes be used for manipulative and deceptive purposes;

  • One of the most effective ways of measuring a Leaders’ level of EQ is through personality assessments. There are three components of personality that shape all human interactions;

  • Identity - the story we tell ourselves about ourselves—it’s the person you think you are. While there might be some takeaways in how we perceive ourselves, we are usually wrong. We often have an inflated idea of our own talent, or we might be unnecessarily hard on ourselves;

  • Reputation - on the other hand, is what everyone else thinks of us, and it’s based on our overt behaviours and social skills. Your reputation is the person other people think you are;

  • Social skill – the person’s need for social interaction and the extent to which they are comfortable and competent around others.


Personality assessments predict how an individual will behave in certain circumstances by understanding their fundamental natural tendencies so that they can control/modify their day-to-day behaviour and interaction with others to get the most out of their relationships.


For more information on how to identify personality traits across your team - and how to support each individual, please click here.