Joanne Trotta - Aug 5, 2019

How Did Emotional Intelligence Become Essential for Leadership?

What does the term “emotional intelligence” mean to you?

Is it simply a buzzword or phrase?
Is it a concept that you’ve heard about and don’t fully understand?
Is it something you’re familiar with and strive to achieve?
Is it something you value and employ in your leadership?

My guess is that if you’ve been following Emergenetics® or my work, you are unlikely to view emotional intelligence as a buzzword. In fact, you are probably quite familiar with it and recognise that it is critical to your success as a leader.

To me, emotional intelligence (or EQ) is a foundational concept for leadership. It is the secret ingredient that makes great leaders so inspiring. When it’s missing from an individual’s toolbox, it can cause serious problems and impede one’s ability to deliver the desired results for their team and company.

A Brief History of Emotional Intelligence and Leadership
Modern leaders may be familiar with EQ from Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking work, particularly his 1995 book, entitled Emotional Intelligence – why it can matter more than IQ. Therefore, you may think it’s a concept that’s younger than the average millennial today. However, the phrase was coined many decades ago in 1964 in a research paper by Michael Beldoch.

Even so, the term “emotional intelligence” is younger than many of today’s most powerful leaders. Therefore, some people are apt to dismiss the concept as a flash-in-the-pan phrase designed to sell books and get people to sign up for coaching courses.

The bottom line is that emotional intelligence is more than a phrase. Yes, it has only been in usage for a few decades, however, the traits and characteristics it refers to are timeless. The fact is that emotional intelligence has existed for as long as human beings have walked the earth and interacted with one another. We just didn’t have a name for it until the recent past.

The real push for EQ being an essential quality for leadership began in 1987 when social psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer met on a sunny summer day to paint the walls of Salovey’s home. As the two psychologists painted, they began to discuss their research into concepts like thoughts, feelings and human behaviour. Through their discussions, they realised that theories of intelligence never considered the topic of emotion. They decided that day to create a new theory.

In 1990 Salovey and Mayer published their theory in the scholarly journal Imagination Cognition and Personality. They titled their theory “Emotional Intelligence” and defined it this way:

A form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.

This theory may have raised eyebrows among academics, yet the general public failed to take notice until Goleman published his book, which refines the previous work done by Salovey and Mayer. The book became wildly popular and transformed Goleman into a modern intelligence guru of sorts. But what’s perhaps most notable about Goleman’s book on emotional intelligence is that it applied the concept of EQ to the world of business.

In Goleman’s book, he identifies four characteristics of people who possess emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Social skills

Goleman went on to argue that success in business happens more as the result of high emotional intelligence than high cognitive intelligence (IQ). This idea was an absolute game changer, and the term “emotional intelligence” is now one of the core concepts of leadership development.

The Essential Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence for Leaders

Daniel Goleman’s four characteristics are certainly important for individuals who are being asked to lead others.

In my view, emotional intelligence also encompasses other essential leadership characteristics, including:

  • Compassion
  • Authenticity
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Intuition

Emotional intelligence as a concept gives us a lens through which to view characteristics like these and an umbrella to fit them under. And they have characterised strong, visionary leaders throughout history, prior to anyone’s understanding of a unifying concept such as EQ.

Thankfully, we have discovered that these traits can be learned, practiced and integrated into an individual’s life and workflow. Because experts have studied them for many years now in research, techniques and tools have become available to help leaders become more emotionally intelligent and much more effective at what they do.

What Is Your Emotional Intelligence Level?

Do you suspect that your leadership could benefit from an emotional intelligence boost? Could you build skill in the characteristics I listed above?

Working on emotional intelligence is not easy, and it forces people to confront themselves in ways that can be uncomfortable. However, your ability to improve your EQ could pave the way to your transformation into a truly great leader.

If you’re concerned you may need to boost your emotional intelligence, consider these questions:

  1. Do you have trouble recognising and acknowledging your emotions as you feel them?
  2. Do you find it difficult to build connections with others?
  3. Are you challenged by managing conflict or negotiations?
  4. Do you struggle with long-term thinking and vision?
  5. Have you had trouble reading the emotions of other people?
  6. Does frustration leave you feeling powerless?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you could probably benefit from enhancing your emotional intelligence. Even if you answered “no” to most or all of them, I would encourage you to continue studying the topic and boosting your EQ as much as possible.

The characteristics of emotional intelligence are truly the keys to successful modern leadership, so the more you improve, the better your chances will be to transcend to your next level as a leader.

How to Start Building Emotional Intelligence
If you would like to bolster your EQ, consider using assessments like the Emergenetics Profile as a foundational element toward building Daniel Goleman’s four characteristics of emotional intelligence.

The assessment can help you develop self-awareness by revealing how you prefer to think and behave. With these insights, you can begin to recognise where your own emotions and actions are coming from and practice self-management.

When you share these insights with others and take time to discover the preferences of your team members, you can build social awareness of others’ needs and use the language of Emergenetics to adapt the way you work to support your employees.

This article was originally published in Emergenetics International Blog “How Did Emotional Intelligence Become Essential for Leadership"?

Written by Joanne Trotta