If great artists are masters of a particular medium—be it paint or clay or film—then great leaders are masters of emotional intelligence. The concept of emotional intelligence, or EQ, was initially developed in the 1990s as a way of describing how leaders can read and analyze emotion, and it’s now a buzzword of modern business. Don’t let its popularity fool you into thinking that EQ is just a fad, however: According to a number of studies and experts, EQ is a core competency of leadership.
John D. Mayer—one of the psychologists who pioneered the idea of EQ—defined it as “the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions.”
Other scholars, like Rutgers University’s Daniel Goleman, have further broken down EQ into a series component parts: self-awareness; self-regulation; motivation; empathy; and social skills. Studies have found that it accounts for 58% of performance across all job types and that an impressive 90% of top performers have high EQ.
For leaders, and in a business context, such a skillset is crucial. Emotional management touches on every element of leadership, from assigning tasks and projects to forming teams to resolving conflicts. In these situations, when navigating interpersonal relationships and egos are the keys to driving performance, then a finely-tuned EQ can matter as much or more than technical expertise or experience.
And EQ isn’t a skill to use solely externally—it’s also a powerful vehicle for introspection. Think of all of the instances where you may have struggled to understand your own thinking about a particular plan of action and have been consequently paralyzed by uncertainty. In moments like these, a strong EQ can help you to cut through the uncertainty or the tension and regulate it so that you can take action and move forward.
Of course, an emphasis on EQ shouldn’t suggest that traditional intelligence isn’t relevant to leaders in business settings. Instead, EQ is just another tool for leaders to better understand themselves and their employees. After all, nobody checks their emotions at the door of the office, so learning how to harness them productively through EQ is a key skill to develop.