In January, I became certified to administer the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i 2.0) instrument, designed to assess and support the development of emotional intelligence. These days, “emotional intelligence” (EI) seems to be used often as a general phrase to broadly describe the “soft skills” that leaders need to be successful, without necessarily tying the phrase to anything concrete, specific, or meaningful. One of the reasons I wanted to take the class was to get clarity on what EI is, how EI competencies are linked to leadership effectiveness, and some key takeaways. I was pleased that I came away from the class with a better understanding in all these areas.

Reuven Bar-On, the creator of the EQ-i, gives this definition of EI: “Emotional-social intelligence is a cross-section of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills, and facilitators that determine how effectively we understand and express ourselves, understand others, and relate with them, and cope with daily demands.” One of the things that had long confused me was being aware that there are different models of emotional intelligence but not understanding how they are similar or different. In a paper published in 1990, John Mayer and Peter Salovey used the term “emotional intelligence” and developed the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). The test assesses the ability to read emotional cues in people and social situations, analogous to administering an intelligence test to measure IQ. In a separate effort, Daniel Goleman, best known for writing the book Emotional Intelligence, and Richard Boyatzis created the Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI) to test the behavioral competencies they defined as EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

The EQ-i is the first scientifically validated instrument created to assess emotionally intelligent behavior and is based on Reuven Bar-On’s research. It is a hybrid of the MSCEIT and ECI models, although is more like the ECI in that it treats EI not as a fixed ability but rather something that can be developed. (And all aspects of the ECI are also found in the EQ-i.) Interestingly, Bar-On’s work began with no connection to the other two efforts. His research was driven by his desire to understand why IQ alone did not necessarily correlate with success. He distilled his research findings into 15 skills that are the basis of the EQ-i framework. Coincidentally, they happened to be very similar to the capabilities identified by the (at-the-time) new and growing field of EI, and Bar-On’s work is now also considered part of the field of emotional intelligence.

While not the only predictor of performance, Bar-On found that the capabilities he included in the EQ-i framework were a strong indicator of success, including things like flexibility, assertiveness, and empathy. In addition, the respected Center for Creative Leadership found a significant correlation between key leadership competencies and EQ-i skills and further showed that high-performing leaders had higher EQ-i scores than low-performing leaders. It is not that EI is the most important or the only component of leadership effectiveness – domain expertise and cognitive abilities are also required – but you can’t neglect EI.

My biggest takeaway from the class was that “the higher the better” does not necessarily apply to emotional intelligence and the EQ-i, even though it is easy to default to this thinking when assessments and personal development are involved. In fact, we can be so strong in certain aspects of EI that it may be to our detriment. For example, if we over-do assertiveness, we may be perceived as overly aggressive or too rigid. But the way to temper an over-developed aspect of EI is not to “do less of” that thing – this is difficult to do. (Just try it.) Instead, we want to develop those EI facets that naturally balance assertiveness, such as empathy and flexibility.

If you weren’t quite sure what emotional intelligence meant, or thought of EI as something ill-defined and fluffy, I hope this has given you some definition and structure around EI and helped you understand why it is important to you as a leader. If you were previously dubious of emotional intelligence, I hope this will encourage you to check in with yourself to assess the state of your own EI.

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