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Managing Your Career – When IQ and Expertise are not enough:Or, why you need Emotional Intelligence to get ahead

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Or, why you need Emotional Intelligence to get ahead


The natural career progression

There is a natural progression in one’s career.

Generally, one starts out as a Individual Contributor, moves to Manager, and then to Leader.

From Self to Team to Organization

The transition along the continuum from Individual Contributor to Leader is a move of the focus of self to team to organization.

As an Individual Contributor one works on individual tasks and projects – it’s basically a solo effort; the focus is on self.  A key differentiator between an Individual Contributor and a Manager is the ability to delegate .  A successful Individual Contribution is measured by personal achievement and successful completion of individual tasks assigned by someone else.  A successful manager is measured by the success of the team.  Leaders are measured on the success of their organizations.

From Today to Fiscal Year to the next 5 years.

The transition along the continuum from Individual Contributor to Leader is a movement of focus of longer and longer time-frames and from tactical to strategic.

An Individual Contributor works on tasks in a time-frame of today, tomorrow, and the next day – tactical.  Managers focus on time-frames of this quarter, next quarter, and this fiscal year – tactical.  Leaders focus on direction setting for next year, three years from now, and perhaps five years from now – strategic.

Are the traditional transitions similar to this enough to get you to the CxO positions in major corporations?

IQ and Expertise is not enough

In 1995, a researcher Daniel Goleman wrote this:

I have had to wait till now before the scientific harvest was full enough to write this book.  These insights are so late in coming largely because the place of feeling in mental life has been surprisingly slighted by research over the years, leaving the emotions a largely unexplored continent for scientific psychology…

… What factors are at play, for example, when people of high IQ flounder and those with modest IQ do surprisingly well?

I would argue that the difference quite often lies in the abilities called here emotional intelligence

Goleman and others did a ton of empirical research to find out what differentiates star performers from average or mediocre performers in a variety of organizations.

In recent years, we have analyzed data from close to 500 competence models from global companies (including the likes of IBM, Lucent, PepsiCo, British Airways, and Credit Suisse First Boston), as well as from healthcare organizations, academic institutions, government agencies, and even a religious order.

To determine which personal capabilities drove outstanding performance within these organizations, we grouped capabilities into three categories: purely technical skills such as accounting or business planning; cognitive abilities such as analytic reasoning; and traits showing emotional intelligence, such as self-awareness and relationship skill.

To create some of the competency models, psychologists typically asked senior managers at the companies to identify the competencies that distinguished the organization’s most outstanding leaders, seeking consensus from an “expert panel.”

Others used a more rigorous method in which analysts asked senior managers to use objective criteria, such as a division’s profitability, to distinguish the star performers at senior levels within their organizations from the average ones. Those individuals were then extensively interviewed and tested, and their competencies were methodically compared to identify those that distinguished star performers.

Whichever method was used, this process resulted in lists of ingredients for highly effective leaders. The lists usually ranged in length from a handful to up to fifteen or so competencies, such as initiative, collaboration, and empathy.

Analyzing all the data from hundreds of competence models yielded dramatic results. To be sure, intellect was to some extent a driver of outstanding performance; cognitive skills such as bigpicture thinking and long-term vision were particularly important.

But calculating the ratio of technical skills and purely cognitive abilities (some of which are surrogates for aspects of intelligence quotient, or IQ) to emotional intelligence in the ingredients that distinguished outstanding leaders revealed that EI-based competencies played an increasingly important role at higher levels of organizations, where differences in technical skills are of negligible importance.

In other words, the higher the rank of those considered star performers, the more EI competencies emerged as the reason for their effectiveness.

When the comparison matched star performers against average ones in senior leadership positions, about 85 percent of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than to purely cognitive abilities like technical expertise.

Emotional Intelligence is 85% of the difference for star performers

The key takeaway from Goleman’s work is this:

“When the comparison matched star performers against average ones in senior leadership positions, about 85 percent of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than to purely cognitive abilities like technical expertise.”

Goleman’s empirical research has raised the awareness in the corporate world of ones “personal psychological attributes” (Emotional Intelligence) and how they affect (or predicts) performance to the point that EI is included in leadership training programs and is made an element for the basis of career advancement decisions.  Goleman holds that EI can be taught.  I am not sure I fully agree with that.

Managers and Executives that derailed their careers

There are many studies of why people derail in their careers – Check out our posting – How not to derail you corporate of organizational career

Along the dimensions of Emotional Intelligence, based on research cited by Golman, these are the reasons why people derail their careers:

  1. Self-Control. Those who derailed handled pressure poorly and were prone to angry outbursts.  The successful stayed composed under stress, remaining calm and confident – and dependable  – in the heat of crisis.
  2. Conscientiousness. The derailed group reacted to failure and criticism defensively – denying, covering up, or passing on the blame.  The successful took responsibility by admitting their mistakes and failures, taking action to fix the problems, and moving on without ruminating about their lapse.
  3. Trustworthiness.  The failures typically were over ambitious, too ready to get ahead at the expense of other people.  The successes had high integrity, with a strong concern for the needs of their subordinates and colleagues, and for the demands of the task at hand, giving these higher priority then impressing their own boss at any cost.
  4. Social Skills. The failures lacked empathy an sensitivity, and so were often abrasive, arrogant, or given to intimidation of subordinates.  While some where charming on occasion, the charm was purely manipulative.  The successes were empathic and sensitive showing tact and consideration in their dealings with everyone, superiors and subordinates alike.
  5. Building bonds and leveraging diversity. The insensitivity and manipulative manner of the failed group meant that they failed to build a strong network of cooperative, mutually beneficial relationships.  The successes were more appreciative of diversity, able to get along with people of all kinds.


So how do people move from Individual Contributor to Manager to Leader in Corporate America?  Well, it’s a number of transitional stages.  You can read our posting on the The Leadership Pipeline to get a generic model and framework that is prevalent in many companies.

But, don’t underestimate how much your Emotional Intelligence will count in promotion and career advancement decisions.  Research shows that the higher you get in an organization the more Emotional Intelligence will matter more than technical and cognitive abilities.


Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Emotional Intelligence – The Competencies:



  1. Emotional Awareness– People with this competence:
  2. Know which emotions they are feeling and why
    Realize the links between their feelings and what they think and say
    Recognize how their feelings affect their performance

    Have a guiding awareness of their values and goals
  3. Accurate Self-AssessmentPeople with this competence:
    Are aware of their strengths and weaknesses
    Reflective, learning from experience
    Open to candid feedback, new perspectives, continuous learning, and self-development

    Able to show a sense of humor and perspective about themselves
    BLIND SPOTS: Blind Ambition-need to win or be right at any cost
    Unrealistic Goals- sets overly ambitious, unattainable goals for group
    Relentless Striving- compulsively hardworking at expense of all else, vulnerable to burnout
    Drives Others-pushes others too hard, takes over instead of delegating
    Power Hungry- seeks power for own reason rather than for company
    Insatiable need for recognition- addicted to glory-takes credit for other’s work and blames them for mistakes
    Preoccupation with Appearance-needs to look good at all costs-craves material trappings
    Need to seem perfect-enraged by or rejects criticism, can’t admit mistakes
  4. Self Confidence –People with this competence:
    Present themselves with self-assurance; have “presence”
    Can voice views that are unpopular and go out on a limb for what is right
    Are decisive, able to make sound decisions despite uncertainties and pressures


  1. Self-control –People with this competency:
    Manage their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well
    Stay composed, positive and unflappable even in trying moments
    Think clearly and stay focused under pressure
  2. Trustworthiness and conscientiousness –People with this competency:
    -Act ethically and are above reproach
    Build trust through their reliability and authenticity
    Admit their own mistakes and confront unethical actions in others

    Take tough, principled stands even if they are unpopular
    Conscientiousness –Meet commitments and keep promises
    Hold themselves accountable for meeting their objectives
    Are organized and careful in their work
  3. Innovation and Adaptability –People with this competency:
    – Seek out fresh ideas from a wide variety of sources
    Entertain original solutions to problems
    Generate new ideas
    take fresh perspectives and risks in their thinking
    Adaptability – Smoothly handle multiple demands, shifting priorities, and rapid change
    Adapt thier responses and tactics to fit fluid circumstances
    Are flexible in how they see events


  1. Achievement Drive –People with this competency:
    Are results-oriented, with a high drive to meet their objectives and standards
    Set challenging goals and take calculated risks
    Pursue information to reduce uncertainty and find ways to do things better

    Learn how to improve their performance
  2. Commitment –People with this competency:
    Readily make sacrifices to meet a larger organizational goal
    Find a sense of purpose in the larger mission
    Use the group’s core values in making decisions and clarifying choices
    Actively seek out opportunities to fulfill the group’s mission
  3. Initiative and Optimism –People with this competency:
    Are ready to seize opportunities
    Pursue goals beyond what’s required or expected of them
    Cut through red tape and bend the rules when necessary to get the job done
    Mobilize others through unusual, enterprising efforts
    Optimism: Persist in seeking goals despite obstacles and setbacks
    Operate from hope of success rather than fear of failure
    See setbacks as due to manageable circumstance rather than personal flaw



  1. Understanding Others –People with this competency:
    Are attentive to emotional cues and listen well
    Show sensitivity and understand others’ perspectives
    Help out based on understanding other people’s needs and feelings
  2. Developing Others –People with this competency:
    Acknowledge and reward people’s strengths and accomplishments
    Offer useful feedback and identify people’s needs for further growth
    Mentor, give timely coaching, and offer assignments that challenge and foster a person’s skills
  3. Service Orientation –People with this competency:
    Understand customers/clients needs and math them to services of products
    Seek ways to increase customers’ satisfaction and loyalty
    Gladly offer appropriate assistance
    Grasp a customer’s perspective, acting as a trusted advisor
  4. Leveraging Diversity –People with this competency:
    Respect and relate well to people from varied backgrounds
    Understand diverse worldviews and are sensitive to group differences
    See diversity as opportunity, creating an environment where diverse people can thrive
    Challenge bias and intolerance
  5. Political Awareness –People with this competency:
    Accurately read key power relationships
    Detect crucial social networks
    Understand the forces that shape views and actions of clients, customers, or competitors
    Accurately read organizational and external realities


  1. Influence –People with this competency:
    Are skilled at winning people over
    Fine-tune presentations to appeal to the listener
    Use complex strategies like indirect influence to build consensus and support
    Orchestrate dramatic events to effectively make a point
  2. Communication –People with this competence
    Are effective in give-and-take, registering emotional cues in attuning their message
    Deal with difficult issues straightforwardly
    Listen well, seek mutual understanding, and welcome sharing of information fully
    Foster open communication and stay receptive to bad news as well as good
  3. Conflict Management –People with this competency:
    Handle difficult people and tense situations with diplomacy and tact
    Spot potential conflict, bring disagreements into the open and help to de-escalate
    Encourage debate and open discussion
    Orchestrate win-win solutions
  4. Leadership –People with this competency:
    Articulate and arouse enthusiasm for a shared vision and mission
    Step forward to lead as needed, regardless of poeition
    Guide the performance of others while holding them accountable
    Lead by example
  5. Change Catalyst –People with this competency:
    Recognize the need to change and remove barriers
    Challenge the status quo to acknowledge the need for change
    Champion the change and enlist others in its pursuit
    Model the change expected of others
  6. Building Bonds –People with this competency:
    Cultivate and maintain extensize informal networks
    Seek out relationships that are mutually beneficial
    Build rapport and keep others in the loop
    Make and maintain personal friendships among work associates
  7. Collaboration and Cooperation –People with this competency:
    Balance a focus on task with attention to relationships
    Collaborate, sharing plans, information and resources
    Promote a friendly, coooperative climate
    Spot and nurture opportunities for collaboration
  8. Team Capabilities –People with this competency:
    Model team qualities like respect, helpfulness, and cooperation
    Draw all members into active and enthusiastic participation
    Build team identity, esprit de corps, and commitment
    Protect the group and its reputation, share credit

Written by frrl

October 19, 2009 at 6:13 am

2 Responses

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  1. This is a great post. Thanks so much. I think that EQ should be emphasized so much more in school and in the way we raise our children. I also recommend Howard Gardner’s books on multiple intelligences as a complement to reading Goleman’s books.


    January 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm

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