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Understanding Emotional Intelligence


Michael Massey, head of EQ Leadership Solutions and author of ‘The Knowledge: How to be an Effective and Emotionally Intelligent Leader’ looks at the theory behind EI and its implications for leadership skills.

It was in 1990 that American psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer first aired their theory of emotional intelligence (EI).

It has since been defined as ‘the ability to identify, understand and sense your emotions and those of others, and to use that knowledge to assist thought and understanding as a source of information, influence, creativity and energy’.

They framed the theory as a model of social intelligence whose basic concept refers to the ability to recognise and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others.

EI was put firmly on the map in 1995 when Daniel Goleman popularised the theory in his best-seller ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ’.

Is EI really new?

Leaders, be they politicians, dictators, CEO’s, team leaders or shop stewards, have for centuries massaged, pushed, manipulated, swayed and driven people’s emotions.

We have always preferred the emotionally competent to lead us through uncertain times: leaders who could give clarity and direction – leaders who inspire us.

However, what is new is that we know more about how our brain works. The emotional mind and the rational mind are separate, but interconnected. When we achieve a balance we are working at our best.

What is new is the understanding that IQ alone cannot predict the effectiveness of a leader. It is an effective measure of mental ability, but an IQ score in the stratosphere does not automatically indicate good leadership material.

A person’s ability to identify, manage and understand emotions is fundamental if they are to be an effective leader - good leaders need to be intelligent about emotions if they are to be successful.

EI domains

Goleman went on to develop and interpret emotional intelligence to be a theory of performance: of effectiveness in the workplace, as a predictor of performance and leadership.

He identified four EI ‘domains’: self-awareness and self-management – how we manage ourselves, and social-awareness and relationship-management – how we manage relationships.

Within those domains there are ‘EI competencies’, such as emotional self-awareness and empathy, which provide the framework of his interpretation of the theory.

The ‘EI men’ - particularly Goleman - articulated their theory convincingly. They have captured people’s imagination and answered a need.

The business community is discovering a way of connecting with the new order: a means of refreshing stagnant business thinking and rejuvenating business leadership.

Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be learned and developed, which is why it is having such a dramatic effect on leadership and leadership development.

EI leaders

So how are EI leaders identified and what sets them apart from the others?

EI leaders understand the effect of their actions, their words and their moods on those they lead. They recognise the importance of interpersonal relationships. They listen. They show empathy. But most important of all, they are self-aware - they know themselves.

Through this understanding and self-knowledge they have the self-confidence to generate enthusiasm and to ignite passion in those they lead.


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