What matters more in leadership: EQ or IQ?

Successful leadership requires strong emotional intelligence (EQ), but how should this measure up with IQ? Samantha Caine explores the link between EQ and IQ.

Reading time: 3m 30s.

Donald Trump has been known to boast of a high IQ, reflecting the timeworn belief that a strong intelligent quotient is important to successful leadership. But some might argue that boasting about one’s IQ shows signs of poor emotional intelligence, otherwise known as EQ.

Indeed, many leaders do possess a high IQ; Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen both score an IQ of around 160 – the same score as the late Professor Stephen Hawking. In recent years, however, many have argued that EQ is more important than IQ when it comes to strong leadership. 

While a high IQ can be stimulated through increased learning and educational exercises, it cannot be taught. A high EQ on the other hand, can be developed with the right training and development programmes. For organisations joining the global movement of succession planning and investing in the growth of future leaders, the development of emotional intelligence in leadership should be a serious consideration. 

Emotional rescue

Teaching emotional intelligence is all about instructing people on how to be aware of both their emotions and the emotions of others so that they can use this information to formulate their response in a pragmatic and deliberate way.

Leading edge organisations recognise that their people resource is the single most significant factor that will enable them to differentiate themselves in the future, and they want to invest in this resource.

In the workplace this can be delivered through behavioural training which can transform the way people behave, particularly in relationships with other people, and in leadership this is essential. 

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware that the ability to communicate with and relate to other people effectively is a core factor in ensuring business success in the future. Leading edge organisations recognise that their people resource is the single most significant factor that will enable them to differentiate themselves in the future, and they want to invest in this resource.

Emotional intelligence is about being able to interact effectively with other people and this is a core competency of a successful leader. They must be able to lead, persuade, negotiate and inspire other people. The more emotionally capable a business is, the more agile it will be and the better it will be able to identify and respond to market changes and customer needs. 

Emotional intelligence is a combination of different skills, therefore measuring it is no simple feat. To some extent EQ is subjective which makes it even more challenging. EQ needs to be measured through a number of different routes including the results that they achieve and the competencies and tools that they have identified as core for their business. 

For managers, for example, a combination of 360-degree feedback results, customer satisfaction surveys and achievement of objectives can all provide an indication of someone’s ability to work effectively with other people.

Can EQ and IQ be balanced? 

It would be unfair to say EQ is always more important than IQ since it really does depend on the role. In roles such as accounting or computer programming that rely heavily on cognitive skills, a high IQ might matter more. However, in leadership roles you need to be able to interact well with other people, therefore EQ is where the focus should lay in leadership development. 

In industries like engineering, leaders will often have worked their way up to the position through various engineering roles, therefore a high IQ will matter more because it means they have an in-depth understanding of the functions that they will be managing. 

But we would argue that in many cases across different industries, the leader is not necessarily the expert so it is their ability to lead that counts. They must be able to lead the team and empower them to achieve results and this requires a high level of EQ.

The most effective behavioural training programs focus on developing EQ by providing the theory and following it up with plenty of opportunities to test the new skills and receive feedback in a safe environment that replicates the real world working environment. 

By striking the right balance between EQ in leadership and ensuring subject matter experts possess the right skills and knowledge, organisations can ensure continued success with effective leadership across the board. 


About the author

Samantha Caine is managing director of Business Linked Teams.


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