Smarts Aren’t Enough. The Argument for Emotional Intelligence in the Business World


You might have a sky-high IQ and an impressive array of finely honed business skills, but that’s not enough to make you a good leader. You also need emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, psychologist, science writer, and international bestselling author, makes the case for EI in the business world in Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence. The book includes selections from Goleman’s body of work over the last two decades that illustrate EI’s positive impact on personal and organizational excellence.

Goleman has been exploring the wide world of EI since 1990 when he happened on an article entitled “Emotional Intelligence”, written by two Yale psychologists and appearing “in a very obscure journal.” At the time he was a science journalist at The New York Times covering the brain and behavioral sciences, a position he held for 12 years.

“I thought it was a powerful concept that we could be intelligent about emotions,” said Goleman. He used that introduction to EI to frame his 1995 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence. The book covers both the neuroscience and DanielGolemanHSthe applications of EI, defined in short by Goleman as “how we manage ourselves and our relationships.” It maintained a spot on the The New York Times bestseller list for a year-and-a-half, and currently has more than 5 million copies in print worldwide in 40 languages. Over the last 20-plus years Goleman’s work has further examined the application of EI in a variety of domains, including health, relationships, ecology and child development.

“Most recently I’ve been focusing on leadership and what makes a leader effective, what distinguishes leaders who get good results from those who don’t,” Goleman told Travel Weekly PLUS. “It turns out it’s not your IQ. It’s not the school you went to. It’s not your test scores. It’s how you can inspire, how you can motivate, how you can influence, how you can guide, how you can listen. In other words, it’s emotional intelligence.”

This is the first of two excerpts from a discussion between Goleman and Travel Weekly PLUS Editor in Chief Diane Merlino. 

Merlino: Emotional intelligence was described in the Harvard Business Journal as a groundbreaking, paradigm-shattering idea in business. Why is that?
Because the concept changes the framework in which you think about excellence in business. 

In business school they give people the conceptual tools to operate as a leader and to understand the systems and dynamics that we deal with continually. But, as the CEO of the world’s largest money management firm told me, ‘When I was hiring MBAs for a major bank I was astonished that, although I was hiring the best and the brightest, once they were on the job I still got a bell curve for performance.’ That means some were outstanding, most were in the middle, and some were awful. And these are people who, from the point of view of their IQ, were fantastic.

So what the emotional intelligence concept unpacks is the fact that once you’re in a top-level post, you of course need an IQ about a standard deviation higher than normal — that’s about 115 points of IQ or better. But you have to realize that there’s what’s called the floor effect — you’re competing with people who are as smart as you are, so IQ drops out as a strong predictor of success. What makes the difference among leaders is how they manage themselves, how they handle their relationships. That’s emotional intelligence.

Q: You’ve said that intelligence, as defined by IQ, and technical abilities are not enough to make a good leader. In fact, you describe them as entry-level skills.
The distinction I’m making is between a threshold competence — that is an ability or skill that you need to get the job and keep it — and a distinguishing competence — one which predicts the difference between people who are star performers and people who are average.

IQ and cognizant skills at high levels turn out to be threshold competencies — the ones you need to get the job — whereas emotional intelligence becomes a distinguishing competence, one that will predict who’s going to be a star performer.

Q: What do you mean by a star performer?
Top 10%, by whatever metric makes sense for that position.

Q: I’d like to take a closer look at the four components of emotional intelligence covered in your book, “Leadership, the Power of Emotional Intelligence.” Let’s start with self-awareness; what is self-awareness within the context of leadership and emotional intelligence?
Self-awareness is the capacity to tune into your inner feelings, your gut sense. That turns out not to be frivolous, but to make very good sense from the point of view of neuroscience, because when we make a complex decision parts of our brain that don’t speak to us in words are at work.

Actually, most of our brain doesn’t speak to us in words, but it knows everything that we have learned over the course of our lives. When you face a decision like what strategy should you follow going into the future, or should you leave your job for another, there aren’t easy answers to those questions, and your brain works very hard to solve them. And it gives you the answer, not in words, but in a gut sense, a feeling — it feels right, or it doesn’t feel right. That’s very important data.

Studies have shown that the best entrepreneurs, the most successful ones, use this gut sense as a check on what the numbers look like, on all of the rational decisions they make. They’ll say, ‘You know, even if it looks good on paper I might not go ahead if it doesn’t feel right,’ and it turns out that’s a very wise thing.

The gut sense is also what answers the ethical question, ‘Is what I’m about to do in keeping with my sense of purpose, meaning, and value.’ That answer comes to us in this inner sense first, and then we put it in words. So it’s an ethical rudder, too. 

Q: Have you found that most top-level executives respond to this self-awareness component of EI? Or do you have to haul in all of the neuroscience to convince people?
What I find generally is that with people who are very hardnosed and want the facts, it’s good to explain the neuroscience behind this because it’s hard data about soft skills. Otherwise soft skills seem trivial and they’re easily dismissed. But once you understand the neural wiring that makes them essential for success, then you take them more seriously.

Q: You include self-management as another component of emotional intelligence. What are some of the characteristics of self-management?
Self-management has to do with managing our emotions in two ways: keeping our upsetting and distressing emotions from getting in the way of accomplishing our goals, and enhancing our positive emotions, our engagement, our enthusiasm, which moves us towards those goals.

People who are very good at this are able to persist despite obstacles. They can bounce back, they are very resilient when things go wrong, and they find ways to overcome obstacles. People who are poor at it tend to give up.

It also manifests in staying cool under pressure. This is extremely important in a leader because when things are /uploadedImages/TW_Plus/xTW_Plus_Images_ONLY/EIbookcoverET.jpggoing badly, when the going gets rough or in an emergency, everyone else looks to the leader to see how to react. If the leader is panicked everyone else panics. If the leader stays calm and cool and focused, then everyone else can relax.

The neuroscience here has to do with what’s basically a neuro-superhighway between the prefrontal area, just behind the forehead, and the amygdala. The prefrontal area is the part of the brain that makes decisions, that thinks, decides our goals, that learns, that plans. It’s kind of the boss of the brain. The other part is the amygdala, which is the trigger in the emotional centers for the fight or flight response. This is what sends us into anxiety or into anger or distress. The key is being able to manage this part of the brain. That’s the circuitry that underlies self-management.

Q: Your model of emotional intelligence also includes the components of empathy and social skills. Can you elaborate for us?
Now we’re talking about a different set of neuro-circuitry: we switch to knowing how other people are feeling, to using all of this information to have skillful interactions with them. These are the third and fourth parts of the emotional intelligence model. We’re talking about what’s called the social brain.

This is a relatively new discovery in neuroscience. It turns out that much of the wiring in the top of the brain and the prefrontal area is designed to sense what the person we’re with is feeling, and to help us react to them with skill. This wiring is behind, for example, empathy.

Q: We’re all pretty familiar with the concept of empathy. How does that quality fit in with emotional intelligence?
One kind of empathy is cognitive empathy, which is understanding how the other person sees things. Technically, it means knowing their mental models, the way they view the world. But it really means kind of walking in the other person’s shoes, understanding their perspective. This allows a leader to put things in a way the other person will understand, that makes sense to them, that will matter to them. It makes communication far more effective.

The other kind of empathy is emotional empathy, which has to do with sensing what the other person is feeling. This involves different wiring and it means that you have an immediate sense in your body of what’s going on with the other person. This means that you can make your communications more emotionally salient, more meaningful to the other person.

Then there’s managing emotions, which actually is putting together all the other three abilities [self awareness, self management, and empathy] so that you can persuade and influence, you can listen, you can motivate, you can negotiate, you can do all of the things that make relationships better.

Q: How do you see these ideas applying in the travel industry?
In the travel industry this is extremely important because how satisfied people are with the hotel stay or with riding on an airplane, or whatever it may be, has a lot to do with the emotions they experience along the way, and those are pretty much driven by people. You can be on a plane that’s late but have a wonderful interaction with a great (flight attendant) who makes you feel good about the whole experience. Or you can be on a plane that’s perfectly on time and have a horrid interaction and hate the experience and, in fact, dislike the airline.

The key point is that how people feel after having experienced a hotel stay or air travel is what determines how they feel about repeating that business or repeating that experience. So, you want it to be in the positive range.

NEXT ISSUE: The connection between emotional intelligence and the bottom line, characteristics of an emotionally intelligent salesperson, and how to develop emotional intelligence.

For social media interaction with Daniel Goleman:
Twitter: @DanielGolemanEI

EDITOR'S NOTE: Goleman has developed a comprehensive eight-part video series entitled Leadership: A Master Class. The series examines the best practices of top-performing executives, and offers practical guidance for developing emotional intelligence competencies. 

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