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It wasn’t so long ago that business leaders were focused on performance potential rather than emotional savvy. Think about it: wasn’t the very idea of “being professional” just code for “keeping your emotions in check?” Well, today, being professional is all about recognizing that it’s not so black and white. All of us in our various workplaces are, after all, human. With human emotions. So the ability to recognize when your emotions are driving your decisions—all while reading your teammates’ emotions to help lead them more effectively—is what will set you apart as an exceptional leader.

But there’s a dramatic sea change underway. Leaders who understand that emotion and performance are inextricably linked are leading their teams more effectively, and providing irreplaceable value for their organizations. The slow dawning that began with forward-thinking leaders is on its way to becoming standard operating procedure in companies all over the world—and once you spend a little time digesting the theories and data, it’s easy to see why.

The concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI), also referred to as Emotional Quotient (EQ), has been gaining traction since the mid-nineties, when science writer Daniel Goleman’s eponymous book first began to raise eyebrows in corporate circles. Goleman’s general hypothesis: That a person’s EQ—the ability to relate to people on an emotional level, both in the office and the outside world—was likely to be a greater indicator of professional success than his or her IQ.

“In a study of skills that distinguish star performers in every field from entry-level jobs to executive positions, the single most important factor was not IQ, advanced degrees, or technical experience, it was EQ. Of the competencies required for excellence in performance in the job studies, 67 percent were emotional competencies.” —Daniel Goleman

While some of Goleman’s initial research methods garnered criticism from the scientific community, subsequent study has continued to support his initial theories—and the “big idea” continues to resonate. According to Dave Lennick, executive VP for American Express Financial Advisers, “Emotional competence is the single most important personal quality that each of us must develop. Only through managing our emotions can we access our intellect and our technical competence. An emotionally competent person performs better under pressure.”

Emotional Intelligence isn’t rocket science—its four components, below, are fairly intuitive—but Goleman’s early detractors did tend to dismiss it as a “soft skill” (a huge misnomer if there ever was one; anyone who has tried to work on emotional intelligence knows it’s darn hard), when compared to traditional indicators of potential success, like having the right work experience or technical expertise. When you cut through all the theoretical noise, though, here’s what you need to know: the best business pedigree in the world won’t make a leader out of somebody who doesn’t have empathy.

Because we’ve ALL had that boss. The name-dropper who’s constantly throwing his Fortune 500 background in your face. The one who ONLY gives negative feedback, with no opportunity for discussion. Or “Old Yeller:” the one who leads by intimidation rather than inspiration. In short: the boss nobody wants to work for no matter how smart or successful he or she might be. By contrast, the high-EQ leader is intuitive and collaborative, does more listening than talking—and makes you feel like you’re part of the solution. That’s Emotional Intelligence, and it creates the kinds of leaders we want to work for … and be.

By 2011, the value of EI had made itself apparent to the HR community; in a survey conducted that year by Career Builder, 71 percent of hiring managers said they valued EQ over IQ, and 75 percent said they were more likely to promote a high-EI employee. Today, EI is not only a legitimately recognized “job skill”—according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, it’s poised to become one of the top 10 job skills by 2020.

So how, exactly, does EI translate into job performance? Multiple studies and anecdotal reports have shown people of high Emotional Intelligence to be model employees, possessing the ability to handle a wide range of professional situations with grace. In general, hiring managers cite high-EQ employees for their superior performance in conflict resolution, coping with high-pressure situations, cooperating with people from diverse backgrounds and skill sets, listening, receiving feedback and thoughtful decision making.

Knowing this, it’s easy to see the power of applying these principles to leadership—where  empathetic traits are required to flourish at scale. Recent analysis of more than 500 senior executives found that high-EQ leaders were more likely to succeed than those with high intelligence (IQ) or impressive experience.

There’s a lot being written about leadership styles right now, but many EI theorists are suggesting that the most successful leaders adapt their own personal leadership style to suit each individual they manage. This is at the core of the Daniels Leadership model and something you can (and will) learn through our leadership programs.

High EI translates into cultural and institutional authority, which results in more impact on the organization. And by the way, that talent pipeline problem your organization has? How it’s harder than ever to keep good people … how your leaders are leaving, creating a knowledge drain for your organization? It has become clear that high-EI leaders foster an environment for happier, more productive employees and create fertile ground for the growth of new leaders. Stay tuned for more on this topic in our monthly video series.

In the meantime, we’ve compiled our favorite books on the subject—as well as a few free online assessments to find out in minutes where you fall on the spectrum. As the research suggests, self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence … so it’s imperative that we all take a closer look inside. Starting now.

REQUIRED READING
The EQ Edge
An exploration of the top EQ factors that drive success across multiple industries, roles and personalities.

The Language of Emotional Intelligence
A relatable breakdown of the five basic tools that define EQ, and how to apply them to your life.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0
A great primer on EQ, with an online baseline assessment step-by-step self-improvement regimen.

Working with Emotional Intelligence
Goleman’s best—including case studies of EI wins, losses and reversals from 500 global organizations.

Coaching for Emotional Intelligence
Thoughtful and strategic coaching discussion of EI coaching challenges, for forward-thinking managers.

FREE ONLINE EI ASSESSMENTS
EQ Quiz
Institute of Health and Human Potential (about 5 minutes)

Emotional Intelligence Test
Psychology Today (about 45 minutes)

How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?
Mind Tools (about 5 minutes)

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES