Is emotional intelligence the most important personal trait in leadership?

Is emotional intelligence more important than IQ in successful leadership? Here, Marielena Sabatier argues the case for taking it more seriously.

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

Very intelligent leaders understand concepts very quickly, and expect others to understand them at the same pace. They get frustrated when people don’t, but don’t want to take the time to make them understand because of the fear of being condescending or pedantic.

A good analogy is that they may driving a Formula one car but their team is in a school bus. They need to slow down to speed up, otherwise, whilst they may arrive at the destination first, they will have to come back to find the bus.

Slowing down and ensuring everyone is on board speeds up success because the goal is achieved by a team.

Another problem with highly intelligent leaders is that they have the attitude of “I know the answer and I’m right,” therefore they don’t listen to the people working for them.

They tend not to 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.

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

They are also dumbfounded 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 progress in a company, they need to deliver results through others. Leaders must inspire people to go the extra mile, and that means conquering their minds and their hearts. If not, they end up working around the clock because they can’t get others to perform as required.

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Such leaders aren’t clear about how their behaviour impact others, because they are so focussed on achieving the outcome, they miss the big picture.

They can get results when they have the power of authority and a team to command. But what happens when they have to influence others, without legitimate power?

In contrast, leaders who are emotionally intelligent 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 one, no matter how bright that one head is.  They are humble and curious about what others think.

They are aware of how their behaviour impacts people and know that investing time in people’s development will pay back dividends in terms of loyalty, effort and performance

There is hope for high IQ leaders, because emotional intelligence can be developed.

Here are some tips:

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

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

  • Observe yourself and pay attention to any negative emotions. 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. Why not explain it differently, so they understand it? 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 what you intended to say.

  • Be more empathetic to how other people feel. You don’t need to have experienced what they are going through, but you may have experienced the same emotion. So someone is trying to quit smoking, and you may think they are idiots, haven’t they seen the statistics? But you may be trying to lose weight, and find it hard. So instead of judging them for the actual action, empathise with them on the difficulty of not eating or smoking what you want.

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

Further reading: Letting go – handing over the business reins

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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