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Emotional Intelligence – Part 1: The Higher Your Go, The More It Matters!

By Aimee Hansen

Research has shown that leadership accomplishment at the most senior levels is highly correlated with emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence in LeadershipEQ is said to be responsible for up to 58% of performance outcome. Whereas cognitive ability and IQ are “threshold competencies,” emotional intelligence is a differentiator at the leadership edge.

Emotional intelligence is so important in leadership that research has found that within groups with no dedicated leader, having the highest emotional intelligence is one of the driving factors for who will ultimately emerge as a leader. It’s not only an asset for leadership, but a predictor of leadership success.

It’s been called “the next sign of great leadership” in a Forbes Council Post, and in the quiet and remarkable transformation happening in business, “Honesty, intelligence and empathy are required.”

“Yes, this requires a level of vulnerability that makes old school CEOs and COOs cringe,” writes Rebecca T. Dickson, “But for those open to it, leaders are building trust they were never able to when they hid behind authority.”

No Soft Skill

Dr. Daniel Goleman, the most famous of the emotional intelligence researchers, highlights that EI is especially critical in the C-Suite. Goleman told Acertitude, an executive search firm, “what I found is that for jobs at every level, emotional intelligence is about twice as important as cognitive ability. The higher you go in the organization the more it matters. For top-level C-suite jobs, 80% to 90% of the abilities that distinguish high performers, as identified by the company itself, is based on emotional intelligence.”

Goleman told Acertitude, “What they’re looking for is the ability to manage yourself and to handle relationships effectively. That’s the definition of emotional intelligence. That’s what really matters.”

When IQ and technical skills are similar, emotional intelligence (no soft skill) is what moves people up the ladder. It pays too.

One study found that participants with high degrees of emotional intelligence made an annual average of $29,000 more than those with a low degree of emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence

Goleman breaks the emotional intelligence framework into four areas:

Self-Awareness: accurate self-assessment, self-confidence, and emotional self-awareness
Social-Awareness: empathy, organizational awareness, and service
Self Management: emotional self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative, and optimism
Relationship Management: inspirational leadership, influence, developing others, change catalyst, conflict management, bond-building, and teamwork

With emotional intelligence, you’re able to bring awareness to your brain’s fast operating system, which is automatic, default, irrational and often quick to interpret events negatively rather than as opportunities and react with disproportional emotion to the situation in front of you now. You attune more to your slower, more cautious and intentional second operating system so that you may respond rather than react.

Within self-awareness, empathy plays a particularly important role when it comes to C-Suite leadership:

Cognitive Empathy is being able to see the world through other’s perspectives (mind-to-mind connection).
Emotional Empathy is being able to feel what others are feeling.
Empathic Concern is being able to relate to how others think and feel and to care about helping them (heart-to-heart connection).

The best leaders possess these empathic characteristics and can articulate and inspire others in a common vision.

Primal Leadership

Goleman introduces the concept of “primal leadership” – “No matter what leaders set out to do—whether it’s creating strategy or mobilizing teams to action—their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.”

“This emotional task of the leader is primal—that is, first—in two senses: It is both the original and the most important act of leadership.” Goleman states. “Leaders have always played a primordial emotional role.”

Fred Kofman, an Argentinian economist and author writes, “Hearts and minds cannot be bought or forced; they can only be deserved and earned. They are given only to worthy missions and trustworthy leaders. This applies not only to organizations but also to many other domains of human activity.”

A leader who is highly effective is often a leader that has done substantial work on herself or himself when it comes to emotional mastery through what Nancy Koehn has called “the gathering years” of harnessing one’s emotional awareness to access her or his deeper strength.

At the helm of any organization are those who navigate the relationship of that organization’s behavior to the very ideology it operates from, the relationship with all those who it serves and the relationship to all those who support it to exist.

Cultivating a sophisticated relationship with yourself, with your emotions and with relating to others emotions is the prerequisite to C-Suite leadership, and more than ever, to evolving how leadership shows up.