Brains vs. Feelings: Is IQ or EQ More Important in Management?

April 1, 2012

Some people say your EQ (emotional quotient) is more of an indicator of professional success than your IQ (intelligence quotient). Well, we’ve all known extremely intelligent people who have no people skills. And there are countless stories of business achievers who had no formal higher education but became well-respected leaders through the power of their personalities.

But according to psychologist Daniel Goleman, who literally wrote the book on emotional intelligence–titled Emotional Intelligence–back in 1995, people have misinterpreted the role of EI and turned it into one of management’s biggest myths: that EQ accounts for 80% of a person’s potential for business success.

Goleman explains that in his books, he has mentioned studies that examine how much of a person’s career success is accounted for by IQ alone. Most researchers in those studies have concluded that IQ accounts for between 10 and 20 percent. That leaves 80 percent for other factors, but while Goleman names several–family, social status, luck and emotional intelligence all play a role–many have jumped to the conclusion that EI or EQ entirely makes up that 80 percent.

Emotional Intelligence: The Hard Truth Fact #1: IQ is actually a better determinant of career success, because it predicts what kind of job you will be able to hold. To be able to handle cognitively complex positions like accountant, physician or top executive, you need an IQ of 115 or above.

Fact #2: In seeming contradiction of Fact #1, once you’re in a high-IQ position, your intellect no longer dictates whether you will become a productive employee or an effective leader. What does? Your ability to handle yourself and relationships. In other words, your EQ.

Corporations have been trying for years to incorporate EI into both their recruiting and leadership development programs. But can EI be learned?

Goleman thinks it can. Or at least, that you can learn to use it.

Every manager faces the challenge of getting the most from the people on their teams. And Goleman says that EI can help.

His theory is that people operate in three neurological states: disengagement, frazzle and flow.

Disengagement occurs when employees are not motivated, when they are distracted and inattentive to the task at hand.

Frazzle prevents employees from being productive because they’re upset about something–a problem with the boss or a co-worker, or just a constant state of too much to do and too little time. The body unleashes a cascade of stress hormones, and the person focuses on what’s bothering them rather than their job.

Flow represents, in Goleman’s words, a “state of neural harmony, where only what is relevant to the task at hand is what is activated.” This maximizes cognitive abilities and is where people are at their best and most productive.

So how do you help keep employees in the flow? Managers should strive not to overwhelm employees but to challenge them by understanding what they are good at and what they want to get better at. Try conducting a “coaching conversation,” a one-on-one talk where the focus is on what the employee wants from life, their career and their job.

Managers can also improve employee performance by making work meaningful to them. Goleman notes that in a crisis or when facing a big deadline, employees will rise to the occasion if it matters to them. So mission statements can be made better and more powerful if managers and employees can establish what is important to them.

According to Goleman, the role of EI/EQ in business is “to get as many people as possible in that state where they love what they are doing, it is meaningful, it is serving a larger objective and is engaging.”

Fact #3: Therefore, the equation is not “IQ versus EQ.” Both have equal value. Your IQ can help you get to where you need to be; your EQ will keep you there.

« Return to press room