Leadership and Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Scottsdale Leadership Class XIX

This is the first of a multi-article series discussing the relationship of leadership and emotional intelligence.

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence (EI) Part One

Ever observe someone you considered an ineffective leader and wonder why they were in a leadership position?  They are intelligent and have the cognitive abilities to do the job, but do they have people skills—the interpersonal intelligence?  They may have a genius level IQ, but are clueless when it comes to dealing with people.  Here is where emotional intelligence (EI) can play a key role in determining the difference between an effective leader and an ineffective leader.  Defined by Daniel Goleman, EI is the noncognitive abilities that help people adapt to all aspects of life.  His research argued that these human competencies (interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies) play a larger role than cognitive intelligence in determining success in life and in the workplace, separating average from the first-rate performers.  While the findings are not sufficient to state “conclusively” that leaders with high levels of EI are better leaders, 25+ years of empirical studies done in the fields of IQ and EI show that there are clear connections between the higher ranges of EI and the possession of skills and abilities associated with leadership excellence. Gaining an understanding of those connections provide individuals in leadership positions ammunition in their efforts to enhance leadership performance.

While leadership performance has always been considered important, events in the last several years like 9/11 and the Enron and WorldCom scandals have brought to the forefront the amount of power and influence a leader can have over his or her followers.  When organizations stop and consider significant questions such as what motivates a leader to choose a certain course of action, what causes people to follow someone they perceive as a leader and when does leadership become detrimental or ineffective, they may need to reexamine the methods and approaches in which they recruit, hire, develop and promote leaders in the workplace.

Organizations promoting individuals based solely on their business expertise and ignoring their emotional intelligence competencies could lead to poor individual performance as a leader, employee attrition and potential organization failure in the areas of internal recruiting and hiring practices and organizational succession planning.  Studies reveal that “when selection, training, and succession planning are based on the emotional intelligence models, organizational as well as individual effectiveness improves” (Bar-on, Handley & Fund). Weisinger, in his book Emotional Intelligence at Work, asserts that “the lack of emotional intelligence undermines both an individual’s and a company’s growth and success.”

One approach to studying and analyzing leadership behavior is to delve into the implications that emotional intelligence contributes to effective performance.  My MBA thesis was an “Exploratory Study of the Significant Contribution That Emotional Intelligence Competencies Can Have on the Successful Transition of an Employee from Individual Contributor to That of a People Leader”.  In conducting my research, I was surprised at how many organizations did not include EI in their hiring, training and promotion programs.

Please share your thoughts and experience on this subject. 



Filed under Leadership

12 responses to “Leadership and Emotional Intelligence (EI)

  1. Tracy Stachniak

    Though I’m far from an expert on this subject matter, I have to agree that Emotional Intelligence (EI) plays an important role in the success of a leader. About a year ago our President & CEO retired from my company, and a Vice President was promoted to President to replace him. The decision to promote this V.P. took me by surprise due to his lack of experience in all aspects of the business, however knowing him on a personal level, he definitely has the EI that it takes to be a successful leader. A year later I can truly say that he’s proven to be the right choice for the job, and I strongly believe that his EI has a big part to do with it. He really connects well with our employees and they in turn have responded well to him. A change in leadership is always al challenging issue an organization can face, but fortunately our parent company recognized the the talent this V.P. has and deservedly promoted him.

  2. Wayne A. Baker

    I personally think that much of a leader’s power and authority comes from those being led preception of their leader. It is my belief that EI is cognitive and it’s developed through social interactions. Although leaders on both sides of the spectrum face leadership challenges to say one is more efficient than the other is bias. Follower(s) want a leader who is caring and compassionate and as long as a leader is able to project this upon his/her followers they will be received.

    • Terri Rabicoff

      In an article “It’s lonely at the top: Executives’ emotional intelligence self (mis) perceptions”, a study revealed that high-performing individuals, as opposed to lower-level individuals, are more likely to have inflated views of their EI competencies and less congruence with the perceptions of others who work with them. Explanations dealt with the lack of feedback, or more critical biased feedback higher level managers may get with reference to their positions. The study noted that helping leaders better understand how they are perceived by others can have significant implications for performance improvement.

      Please read part three of the blog that should be posted soon. It deals with emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence working together and not in contradiction to each other. While each draw mainly from different brain areas (cognitive in the neocortex and emotional capacities in the amygdala), each can be very effective in supporting each other. The cognitive learning can assist with understanding the emotional piece.

  3. Kimberly Anderson

    Emotional intelligence (IE) definitely plays a role in leadership and leadership styles. The agency I work for has included IE as standard training, legitimate training for leaders and employees. I have worked for several leaders in my 30+ year career, who were dazzling with their ability to link to employees, chart a vision, inspire the workforce, and really make changes that counted.
    The leaders, who were un-inspiring for me, seemed to lack basic social skills, the ability to connect, empathy, listening skills, or warmth.
    I recently was told about a great leader who ate lunch with folks, visited, chatted, was interested in people, and had extraordinary leadership skills. She is now Deputy Regional Forester. This person, who excelled by our agency standards, exhibited attributes of emotional intelligence in how she was able to connect to the workforce and had great “followership”. Having IE is so important in the fast-paced environment of today. People want to feel that they matter. A leader with IE does this, and charts a smart visionary path, that employees are willing to travel.

  4. Andrea Baranyk

    I absolutely agree with the relationship between leadership and emotional intelligence. EI should be considered when hiring leadership and it should be included in training sessions for employees. Emotional intelligence is a quality every good leader should have.

  5. Shayla Jones

    Like Tracy, I am not an expert, however I do agree that emotional intelligence is essential for effective leadership. High emotional intelligence allows a leader to have an deeper connection with their followers, and as a result creates passion and fervor in accomplishing goals.

  6. In the Navy as a enlisted sailor if you do your job, stay out of trouble and pass your advancement exam you can get promoted. With this promotion comes a pay raise as well as more responsibilities. Just because you are advanced to a higher paygrade doesn’t mean you are ready for the leadership roll that comes with your advancement. Most of the sailors are ready to move up but you have a few that are advanced and getting paid for it but do not have the leadership ability for that promotion and it is hurting the Navy. It seems like every day a leader in the Navy is on the news for not being a leader and a role model.
    It is up to the senior leaders in all organizations to identify those leaders that are lacking the EI and make changes to fix the problem if there is a solution.

  7. Charcle Fordham

    I think that for a leader to have emotional intelligence is extremely important. A person could have great skills and abilities but without having the right attitude and maturity than how could you lead individuals? A true leader will be mature mentally and emotionally so when faced with difficult decisions, the leader will always do what’s best for the company. So emotional intelligence is needed to lead individuals to great success.

  8. Susan Thorne

    In the workplace, a leader has the ability to create or destroy the innovation, motivation, and satisfactions of employees, which can lead to a successful or an unsatisfactory environment, respectively. An emotionally intelligent individual has the power to, “harness and direct the power of emotions to improve follower satisfaction, morale and motivation” (Daft, 2008). Without a doubt, this skill creates an environment conducive to open communication, freedom and innovation. Such a leader is able to breathe new life into a stagnant, non-productive, struggling organization based simply on an understanding of the emotions of all stakeholders.
    Daft, R. L. (2008). The Leadership Experience (4th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: South-Western. ISBN-13: 9780324539684

  9. Lynne Nutter

    This is common practice in the Air Force. Enlisted promotions come with how well individuals test. The non-commissioned officers (NCOs) are the main supervisors. If an NCO tests good in military history and their career field they move up the ladder with their next stripe. This is where those non-people persons become supervisors/leaders. They have a higher IQ but no EI. Occasionaly the right leadership will be over the organization and consider the EI over IQ. I would prefer the EI leader over the IQ one.

  10. Lynne Nutter

    Lack of EI in leadership in the Air Force is quite common. Many individuals are promoted because of their ranks and not their people skills. This is true for enlisted and officers both. The Air Force offers several leadership classes for the enlisted personnel at each level of rank, but this cannot change their personality. I have had several experiences with these individuals with a high IQ and no EI. Eventually some of these individuals are removed from their position, but not before much damage has been done. I feel leaders should be screened for EI before given that position.

  11. Beckey Boyd Gooden

    I have experienced many supervisors who did not have a high emotional intelligence. I think that if anyone is to lead, they must be well-rounded and demonstrate more than mere tenure/loyalty. Before anyone leads, they should have extensive training and be able to motivate and lead others with compassion, grace and class. Finding a happy medium between intelligence and experience and being emotionally available and stable is a difficult task. When an organization carefully weighs the advantages of developing the characters of leaders, they will all find success.

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