Emotional Intelligence Is No Soft Skill


Despite a bevy of research and best-selling books on the topic, many managers still downplay emotional intelligence as a “touchy-feely” soft skill. But evidence suggests quite the opposite: that high emotional intelligence (EI) is a stronger predictor of a success. In fact, high EI bolsters the hard skills, helping us think more creatively about how best to leverage our technical expertise.

A key differentiator for your personal brand

When participants in a leadership program were asked to list the characteristics of a great mentor or role model, and to classify each characteristic into one of three groups: IQ/smarts, technical skills, or emotional intelligence. Almost invariably, the majority of characteristics fall into the EI bucket.

In fact, emotional intelligence—the ability to understand your effect on others and manage yourself accordingly—accounts for nearly 90 percent of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar.

There is little or no correlation between IQ and high levels of professional success

Although many participants are surprised by the results, scientific research has proved the point – it has found that, beyond a certain point, there is little or no correlation between IQ and high levels of professional success. One needs above-average intelligence—sometimes defined as one standard deviation from the norm or an IQ of about 115—to master the technical knowledge needed to be a doctor, lawyer, or business executive. But once people enter the workforce, IQ and technical skills are often equal among those on the rise. Emotional intelligence becomes an important differentiator.

In fact, emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90 percent of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar (see “What Makes a Leader” in the Harvard Business Review, January 2004).

Some studies of the effects of EI skills in organisations

Research has also demonstrated that emotional intelligence has a strong impact on organizational performance. Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company, focused on the emotional intelligence skills of its sales force, which boosted annual performance by 12 percent (see the research by S. Jennings and B.R. Palmer in “Sales Performance Through Emotional Intelligence Development,” Organizations and People, 2007). After Motorola provided EI training for staff in a manufacturing plant, the productivity of more than 90 percent of those trained went up (Bruce Cryer, Rollin McCraty, and Doc Childre: “Pull the Plug on Stress,” Harvard Business Review, July 2003).

EI and Employee Engagement

Emotional intelligence increases employee engagement and corporate performance for a number of reasons. But perhaps the most important is the ability of managers and leaders to inspire discretionary effort—the extent to which employees and team members go above and beyond the call of duty.

Individuals are much more inclined to go the extra mile when asked by an empathetic person they respect and admire. Although discretionary effort isn’t endless, managers with low emotional intelligence will have much less to draw on. If an organization has a cadre of emotionally intelligent leaders, such discretionary efforts multiply. Read more

From an article by Laura Wilcox, director of management programs at Harvard Extension School.

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