At Work

Emotional intelligence is the key to a successful leadership

EI and leadership: Part 1

Leadership has a lot to do with self-confidence and belief in oneself. These qualities inspire other people and solicit their respect.

In the early years of leadership studies, the view was that a set of traits separates a leader from the pack.

These traits include intelligence, a drive to dominate others, extraversion and charisma. Today, however, people often point to the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) in achieving leadership effectiveness.

What is EI?

The most widely accepted model of EI has been influenced by several scientists and researchers.

American psychologist R. J. Sternberg’s theory of multiple intelligences suggests that interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence are unique and different from the mathematical and logical type recognised today as “IQ” or intelligence quotient.

Dr Peter Salovey and Dr John Mayer first proposed their own theory of EI in 1990, and Dr Reuven Bar-On placed EI in the context of personality, health and well-being.

Dr Daniel Goleman brought the notions of “emotional intelligence” and “emotional quotient” (EQ) to prominence as an alternative to more traditional measures of IQ with his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

In 1998, he reformulated EI as a theory of organisational and job performance. According to Dr Goleman, “a leader’s singular job is to get results”.

But even with all the leadership training programmes and “expert” advice available, effective leadership still eludes many people and organisations. One reason, says Dr Goleman, is that such experts offer advice based on inference, experience and instinct, not on quantitative data.

The discussion of EQ often begins with an emotional challenge from Greek philosopher Aristotle, who stated: “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy.”

Everyone gets anxious, frustrated, worried and angry at times. It’s normal to feel these emotions, but brain researchers have recently found that experiencing them actually inhibits cognitive function.

This is called cortical inhibition, or the “amygdala hijack” as Dr Goleman termed it. So the old saying, “I was so upset I couldn’t think straight” is true.

Think about the last time you were angry with yourself for hitting a bad golf shot. What typically happened to your performance after that? Very likely, it got worse. When you experience negative emotions, you are not likely to make the best decisions.

For details, visit the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (, a useful resource portal on EI.

The effective leader

Studies have demonstrated that leaders who consistently outperform their peers not only have the technical skills required, but more importantly, have mastered most of the aspects of EI.

Dr Goleman states that the five components of EI at work are: self-awareness, self-regulation (or management), motivation, empathy (social awareness), and social skills (relationship management).

There is growing evidence that EI plays a key role in determining success in life and in the workplace.

Other research uncovered links between specific elements of EI and specific behaviours associated with leadership effectiveness and ineffectiveness.

The study using BarOn EQ-i (Emotional Quotient Inventory), an assessment of EI, found that higher levels of certain EI components appear to be connected to better performance in leadership roles. The study also identified potential problem areas that could contribute to executive derailment.

The development of the BarOn model of EI evolved from Dr Bar-On’s early clinical experiences. Based on these experiences, he asked the question: why are some individuals more able to succeed in life than others?

After a thorough review of the factors thought to determine success in general, Dr Bar-On found that predicting success is not always based on cognitive intelligence. Many cognitively intelligent people flounder in life while many less cognitively intelligent individuals succeed and prosper.

EI addresses the emotional, personal, social and survival dimensions of intelligence, which are often more important in successfully coping with environmental demands and pressures than the more traditional cognitive aspects of intelligence. - Singapore Straits Times/Asia News Network

·Article by Sattar Bawany, managing director and country head, Singapore and head of transition coaching practice, DBM Asia Pacific. Extracted from the Star's Classifieds section.