Why Emotional Intelligence is a Key Leadership Skill
The higher up the corporate ladder you go, the more IQ you’ll see. Everyone will be at the top of their technical game. The only thing that’s left is one’s emotional intelligence, which isn’t a guarantee that automatically comes with intellectual prowess. An accumulation of soft skills that aren’t typically taught even in the best business schools, it sets apart the good from the great. Needless to say, as the leader of an organisation, it’s an indispensable skill.
Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who has researched and written prolifically on the subject, once wrote, “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but… they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”
To be more specific, Goleman has identified the four elements of EQ—self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skills. He’s also discovered that emotional intelligence is twice as important as cognitive skills in predicting excellence in the workplace. This is unsurprising if you picture what it would be like to work with someone with low EQ (See: The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper).
Typically a socially inept loner who’s unable to work with others, the black sheep of the company will only bring the business down, thinking they know what’s best and thus rejecting all alternative points of view. Having someone, who lacks empathy or the ability to take responsibility for their mistakes in the office also puts a damper on the overall morale. Because they’re ill-equipped to cope with strong emotions, they’re prone to outbursts and meltdowns—the sort that would cause the saner individuals in the office to jump ship. Being a genius would be irrelevant here.
As the captain of this ship, you’ll likely have trouble convincing anyone to work for you in the first place, let alone the top talents you need to fulfil your vision (because it isn’t humanly possible for you to do all the heavy lifting). Even if you manage to hire a few desperate souls, the turnover rate will be so high, you’ll end up spending more time replacing your staff than actually working on your business. So intrinsic is the art of persuasion to the arsenal of a leader that without it, you’d also fail to get anyone to invest in your company or purchase your product.
Moreover, being a leader is less about telling your subordinates what to do, and more about empowering them to tell you what needs to be done. For a company to be at its best at all times, it needs to be in continual improvement, and we all know even the greatest minds are susceptible to blind spots. This is why you need a diversity of constructive feedback to enlighten you to the unforeseen issues. If you can’t even listen (to criticism, advice or the simplest remarks), your circle will eventually grow silent.
Like what Rosaline Chow Koo of CXA Group believes, people are the key to the success of a business—people who drive the day-to-day operations, who will be your first customers, who are the most reliable word-of-mouth marketers. You can have the most innovative products, the most money, the most number of hours clocked at international leadership conventions, but nothing will be as crucial as the ability to build and maintain interpersonal relationships. After all, you’re not leading inanimate objects or virtual systems. You’re leading people.
EQ doesn’t just affect the folks around you, it also affects you. When you’re caught up in negative emotions (such as anger, jealousy, frustration or grief) that you’re incapable of managing and expressing in a healthy way, it can cloud your mind, influence you to make rash decisions, and result in costly mistakes.
Offering more empirical evidence on the effects of leaders having low EQ, research by leadership consultant KRW International discovered that empathetic, high-character CEOs had an average return on assets of 9.35% over two years, while those with poor character recorded poor financial performance with a return on assets of 1.93%. As much as we’re living in a country that prioritises academic achievement and technical know-how, it’s time we put an end to discounting the importance of being emotionally intelligent as well.