Leadership Traits - Emotional Intelligence

This leadership traits page may be empty. While so called emotional intelligence has clearly been popularized and is being taken as an article of faith in many leadership circles, a note of caution ought to enter the conversation.

Yes, relationships are important and if the term Emotional Intelligence is simply a substitute term for building positive relationships, then great. Relationship building is one of the top five success factors for managers and it does make good business sense to develop relationship skills in leaders.

Scientifically however, there is no neurological evidence that "Emotional Intelligence" is a separate, quantifiable intelligence.  Brain science is demonstrating that the brain is highly interconnected rather than being discrete and localized.

A recent exchange in Leadership Quarterly by Antonakis, Ashkanasy, and Dasborough make the following points:

1. If EI exists then the Salovey & Mayer ability model is more likely to yield result than the Goleman and Bar-On model which uses broadly defined traits. The ability model consists of four specifically define abilities:

  • Emotion perception--accurately recognizing and identifying emotions
  • Emotion facilitation--appropriately aiding the expression of emotion
  • Emotion understanding--comprehension of emotion and the impact of the emotion on the person and in the situation
  • Emotion management--ability to self-regulate emotions and help others to manage their emotions

2. Instruments purporting to measure EI are inadequate, in particular those that are self report. Self report instruments tend to elicit the answer we know is correct, rather than what we would actually do. The other possibility with self report is that we answer what we wish we'd done or what we hope we will do in the future, rather than what we actually did.

3. Emotions are important in leadership. Emotional stability/neuroticism as a leadership trait has been extensively studied and does matter in the leader/follower relationship.


Leadership Tips

  • Don’t use Emotional Intelligence instruments for hiring, promoting or firing. Their validity is eminently challengeable in a court of law. The authors listed above all agree on this point.
  • Be cautious about using Emotional Intelligence measures and instruments to predict leadership success, especially self report instruments. A multi-rater approach is preferable especially when used in conjunction with other input, such as customer feedback, measures of business effectiveness and skip-level rating.
  • Do pay attention to relationship building. Find behavior based skills that leaders can learn and do. For example, teaching empathy would be exceptionally difficult, however active listening skills, paraphrasing and clarifying emotions are learnable. Leadership traits such as emotional stability, relatedness and agreeableness do matter.
  • Encourage short, frequent conversations between leaders and followers. Brief, frequent coaching conversations build positive relationships.


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