Emotional Intelligence: A Contemporary ‘Must Have’ for Change Leaders



In his first interview as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called out ‘emotional intelligence’ – also known as ‘Emotional Quotient’ (EQ) – as his defining characteristic. Anyone embarking on large-scale transformation should heed his remarks.

In isolation, good IQ (‘Intelligence Quotient’} and sound EQ are commonly accepted to be desirable capabilities. But the right alchemy of both is fast becoming a requirement for contemporary change leaders.

EQ is not the opposite of IQ. We need to understand how they work together. Deficiencies in either space can be detrimental to advancement. That’s why Australia’s new Prime Minister has sought to supplement his high IQ credentials with EQ commitment before promoting his change agenda.

Turnbull said: “The important thing is to have the emotional intelligence and the empathy and the imagination that enables you to walk in somebody else’s shoes.

To be able to sit down with them on a train or in the street, hear their story, and have the imagination to understand how they feel. Emotional intelligence is probably the most important asset for – certainly for anyone in my line of work.”

One assumes the ‘ability to relate to everyday Australians’ would be part and parcel of the Prime Ministerial brief. But let’s not go there. Instead let’s explore what EQ means as a differentiator for Leadership.

EQ has been the focus of much executive research, particularly in the U.S. A recent study conducted at the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) on derailed executives, “The rising stars who flamed out” discovered that each member of the ‘derailed group’ exhibited an ‘interpersonal flaw’ and not, as many would have expected, a technical one.

The research carried out on top executives in the U.S and Europe uncovered several flaws, including – poor working relations, authoritarianism, ambition and ‘prone to conflict with upper management’. Such flaws, not surprisingly, fell firmly within the emotional frame.

When it comes to the field of Change Management, or Business Transition as described within the Certus3 and Blue Seed Consulting change frameworks, EQ is king. We have Change and Business Transition Managers with the ability to manage personal responses to change while at the same time building resilience to it and creating exceptional change outcomes.

“Emotional intelligence is a critical tool in business. After years labelled a discretionary “soft skill”, two decades of scientific and business research has demonstrated the value of emotional intelligence for leaders and anyone whose job involves influencing and engaging people.” Langley Group

Isn’t EQ what’s expected of all leaders today (and tomorrow)?

The higher a leader rises in an organisation the more emotional intelligence matters particularly as they begin to face increasing levels of uncertainty, volatility and complexity.

Emotional intelligence was originally defined by Salovey and Mayer (1990) as the ability of an individual to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions; to discriminate among the positive and negative effects of emotion; and to use emotional information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

The great news is that emotional intelligence, unlike IQ, can be developed over time in order to improve performance. Emotional Intelligence forms the suite of soft skills such as empathy and listening, which are ranked highest among the competencies of successful global leaders and C-Suite executives.

Benefits are two-fold: they support higher levels of employee engagement, which translates to happy customers and greater business results; plus they give leaders themselves greater self-awareness, understanding of others, personal resilience, decision-making abilities and the capacity to influence others.

Many HR reps will tell you IQ gets you in the door but a good grasp on your emotional side provides the yellow brick road to promotion.

We’d suggest that a balanced blend of both IQ and EQ will now get (and keep) you in the door, especially during times of change.

“Emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both.” David Caruso

From preschools to corporations to the hallways of the nation’s leadership, people are plugging into their “touchy-feely” side which, once derided, is proving to be a major contemporary key to success in business and in life.

For more information on Emotional Intelligence check out:

Footnote: Salovey, P & Mayer, J 1990, ‘Emotional intelligence’, Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, 185-211.