Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 25th September 2015

Most of us don’t understand what real intelligence is. We think we do, but we don’t, and most organisations don’t have a clue how to detect it in candidates, or assess its relevance to a particular role.

Intelligence or social class?

Most organisations confuse education and social class with intelligence relevant to a professional role. This leads to the advantage of those who sound a certain way and have experienced a certain style of education, or who are socially connected to the ‘right’ groups.

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Assumptions are made based on these factors, which often have little to do with relevant skills and capability in a given role. This may be a large factor in the prevalence of public school and top-20 university graduates at board level and in government. Is that helping us to make best use of the diverse talents and abilities of the 21st century? I think not.

Intelligence or knowledge?

If you think about TV programmes that purport to be tests of ‘intelligence’, for example University Challenge or Mastermind, then they are actually largely tests of retentive memory and the ability to store and recall facts. The same is true of the vast majority of exams. These tests of ‘crystallised intelligence’ are only useful if the knowledge is directly relevant to the ability to perform effectively. If one considers the availability of Google, then how much do we really care about an individual’s possession of information and facts?

For decades we’ve known, and cared, about IQ. But even the IQ test, purported to be the best test of innate intelligence through ability to reason, involves tasks that rely on learnt information, including a knowledge of language and mathematics.

Emotional intelligence

For leaders, there are two types of intelligence that are more useful than any others. The first is that of fluid intelligence, the ability to reason things through, solve problems, and picture situations and challenges, usually at speed. The second is social and emotional intelligence (EQ).

EQ is a measure of a range of intelligences relating to the ability to interact effectively in social situations and with a range of people. It measures self-awareness and the capacity to manage your own emotional state, as well as recognising and managing the emotional responses of others. It also relates to empathy and the ability to understand the situations and motivations of others.

I would suggest that this represents a far more significant range of capabilities that the cold, hard fact of an IQ. Now, I’m not saying that someone with a 95% EQ score but with cognitive abilities in the lowest 25% is going to be great to have around, but someone with a 95% IQ and EQ in the bottom 25% would be infinitely worse.

The job of a leader is all about people: inspiring them, motivating them, understanding them, communicating effectively with them, and building strong reciprocal relationships with them. EQ is what really tells you whether someone has the ability to become a leader and, if you haven’t taken a test for EQ, then I recommend that you do. It’s fascinating stuff.

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