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A Necessary Leadership Skill: Emotional Intelligence

A discussion of leadership has to include the question: What skills does a leader need to have in order to be effective? Leaders need to be able to manage change, and in order to manage change, leaders have to navigate a myriad of social relationships.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a key skill needed by today's leaders.

What is emotional intelligence? The term was popularized by Daniel Goleman in his book Primal Leadership. The notion of emotional intelligence has been around for some time, but the publication of Goleman's book and further studies have brought emotional intelligence to the forefront. At the core of this concept is the ability to be self-aware as to your actions and reactions to others as well as being able to "read" and respond to other's statements and actions.

Emotional intelligence involves the ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth, according to Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey in their book, Ability Model of Emotional Intelligence.

Goleman has defined the emotional competencies found in emotional intelligence as "a learned capability based on emotional intelligence that results in outstanding performance at work." According to Goleman, the EI framework consists of 20 competencies. Goleman’s model attempts to capture a person’s potential for mastering a range of competencies.


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Goleman believes that there are four fundamental capabilities to emotional intelligence (EQ). Those are: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and social skills. The figure above lists specific sets of competencies.

The notion of being able to listen and respond appropriately makes sense. Many of us do this intuitively, yet we see many leaders and managers who lack emotional intelligence.

We see leaders who fail to "see" body language and who fail to "hear" the verbal cues. Many leaders fail to have empathy or organizational awareness. Goleman and the other proponents of emotional intelligence state that emotional intelligence matters more than IQ as you move up the leadership/management rungs. Goleman states that emotional intelligence is at least two times more important than IQ. His conclusion is that the "higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence capabilities showed up as the reason for his or her effectiveness."

Two prominent academics in this field, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authored a book entitled Resonant Leadership. I recommend this book to you as leaders in your organizations. They argue that emotionally intelligent leaders "manage others' emotions and build strong, trusting relationships."

The basis of being a resonant leader starts with EQ and builds on that framework. That is why it is so very important to be familiar with EQ.

There have been several published studies that investigated the level of EQ in lawyers. Those studies have shown that lawyers tend to be "below average" in EQ compared to the general population. There seem to be possibly several reasons for this.

One might be the fact that EQ is not taught in law schools. There is a strong argument that it should, but law schools have shied away from teaching "soft" skills. Another reason is the basic personality of a lawyer. Studies that have used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for Personality (MBTI) to assess lawyers have found that law students generally have an INTJ preference on the MBTI. The Myers & Briggs Foundation defines INTJ persons as the following:

Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance—for themselves and others.

So this now begs the questions: Are you an emotionally intelligent leader? Can you learn emotional intelligence?

In order to answer the first question, there are several free assessments that are available. These assessments can give you a general idea of your ability in relation to EQ, but for a more detailed understanding of your capabilities, you should reach out to a consultant. There are several different professional assessments that are used to assess EQ, and your consultant will be able to help choose which is the right one for you as well as administer the assessment and provide you with feedback.

The good news is that EQ can be learned. This is different from IQ, which you are born with.  Nothing that you do can improve your IQ.

So what resources are out there to increase your EQ?  First and foremost, you should read some of the articles and perhaps books listed in the suggested resources. These will give you a better understanding of what is EQ. Then there are some exercises online that will help you strengthen your EQ. You could also engage a professional coach to help you with your EQ journey.

As Goleman has stated, "emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership."

So, are you an emotionally intelligent leader?

About Author: Steven C. Lindberg

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Freedman Anselmo Lindberg LLC

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