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Is Managing Emotions More Important Than Intellect?

I can think of at least one person who takes a definitive side on that question. Daniel Goleman, who may very well be considered the father of Emotional Intelligence, once said that the “ability to manage one's own emotions is more important than a person's intellect.” This was supported in the Harvard Business Review's 10 Must Reads On Emotional Intelligence when it concluded that 90% of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are similar is emotional intelligence.

I thought about this recently as I was conducting a webinar using Genos’ Emotional Intelligence tool, which is a type of hands-on personalized EI assessment just for you. It has you thinking about the best boss you ever worked for and have you answer six questions based around six competencies. You score the degree to which he or she demonstrated each those competencies from very well (for a high score of 5) or didn’t demonstrate it at all (a low score of 1).

The exercise includes asking:

  • How did that person make you feel when you worked for them?

  • How long ago did you work for them?

  • When you were working for them, how much extra energy did you have to put forth to work for them effectively?

Once we understand how engaged you were with your best boss, we can then ask you to think about your worst boss and ask you the same questions.

As you identify the best and the worst boss you ever had, you'll find out typically that the best person scores typically at least twice as high as the worst person for the six questions.

Here’s the point: You may have worked for those people 20 years ago or longer, but you still really remember them. The best people you may describe as how they made you feel empowered, trusted or engaged. The worst people you may describe as how they made you feel scared and small. As you think back to all the things you admired and all the things you don't want to be, you can paint a picture of best and worst. You can remember how engaged you were with the best bosses. And how you’ll never forget what a jerk that one boss was too.

In this sense, a person having emotional intelligence is key to the organization’s success. If you have to choose between two very competent people to hire, choose the one with the higher EI. No one got fired for hiring someone with high EI. The higher you can find, the better. It’s a bit like saying you can never be too wealthy or happy. You can never have too much EI. That’s because, unlike DiSC which speaks to preferences and tendencies that are far more established, EI is more fluid, situation dependent and can be further developed. Look inside your own organization. Besides an understanding of a person’s IQ, what do you know about their EI? Not sure? It’s been said that EI is going to be one of the top five skills to have going forward, more so than engineering or math or French. EI is being seen as one of the most essential components to a person’s success in the workplace.

When working with Leading With Courage Academy, we’ll not only measure your EI but also give you a sense of where you should go from here based on that through some vital steps for leadership development. That’s because when you combine a variety of assessments, both of us can learn a lot about the areas or challenges that you should consider addressing to be a more effective leader or manager.

For example, when we combine EI with DiSC or other assessments in our tool box, we can tell which kind of leader or manager is the type who always “comes in with the answer.” We can tell a great deal about a person’s level of empathy or lack thereof based on their self-awareness score. In fact, if a person has high empathy, it's not surprising when we hear they have a tough time sticking with under-performers too long. By linking a variety of assessments together, it paints a more complete, compelling picture of a person. Will they fire someone too easily or just always try to find a way to make it work, even if that’s to a fault?

After 12 to 18 months, we’ll often have clients re-take the assessments to discover what was learned and what improvements were made that have stuck (any less than that period might be difficult to see such improvements).

So which is more important? Managing emotion or intellect? The answer isn’t an “either/or” but one thing is certain: It’s vital for organizations to give EI its proper respect in the equation. Then, as assessments are combined, the leader or manager has to be committed to working on the components of EI they can change. Without this, they’ll only be operating on intellect at best and fall short of maximizing their leadership potential.

When you’re serious about putting yourself in the best position for success, let’s talk more about the ways you can accurately measure and elevate your leadership development with our help at Leading With Courage Academy. Contact us 312.827.2643 or email

About the Leading With Courage Academy

The Leading With Courage Academy facilitates leadership assessments, workshops and coaching programs, including DiSC, emotional intelligence, and employee engagement, that help individuals and teams realize peace of mind and confidence as more effective leaders.

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