A Brief Understanding of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence. Self-awareness. Leading with empathy. Cliché? Or legit mainstays? Guess we’ll find out. But we do wonder if entrepreneurs by nature struggle with leadership and the underlying emotional framework for good leadership. After all, entrepreneurs tend to be of singular vision and headstrong. And how well adjusted are we? Really?

Cliché or not, understanding those terms are definitely important as you explore who you are, your emotional health, your capacities, and your chances for success. So we googled “leading with empathy” for starters. Ol’ google kicked back 51.6 million results in .49 seconds. That’s a lot of reading. Why’d we pick that term? ‘Cause that’s what they’re teaching at one top MBA school (Tuck) we’re familiar with. We then googled “leading with emotional intelligence” and got a measly 2.4 million results in a slow .74 seconds. And yet, emotional intelligence is allegedly at the heart of it all.

Ok, flippiness aside, it’s worth a brief dig into how emotional intelligence became such an important part of the business lexicon (self-awareness will have to wait). So here we go. While coined in 1990 by two psychologists, the term “emotional intelligence” didn’t hit the world’s stage until 1996, when another psychologist, Daniel Goleman, penned the seminal book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. It was an international bestseller and spent more than a year and half on the New York Times bestseller list. Then, in 1998 the term became forever intertwined with business leadership when Goleman wrote what the Harvard Business Review calls one of its “most enduring articles.”

In that article he stated: “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.” (https://hbr.org/2015/04/how-emotional-intelligence-became-a-key-leadership-skill)

So by all accounts “emotional intelligence” is kind of new and yet at age 20 has proven it’s not just a fad du jour around the water cooler. So what makes up emotional intelligence? Goleman introduced five aspects:

• Self-awareness
• Self-regulation
• Motivation (defined as “a passion for work that goes beyond money and status”)
• Empathy for others
• Social skills, such as proficiency in managing relationships and building networks

More recently, Wikipedia gives us this definition:

“Emotional intelligence (EI), also known as Emotional quotient (EQ) and Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EIQ), is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”

Put in the above terms, you can see how EI/EQ applies to not just being a good leader but general success. A critical question regarding this ubiquitous term revolves around the “nature versus nurture” debate. Is it something you’re born with or can you learn it, cultivate it, improve it? It’s a discussion that takes up way more space than a blog, but it would appear that you can improve upon your EQ more readily than your IQ. It could also take a lifetime. Or to borrow another cliché, it’s a process.

Here’s something we can say with some relative certainty: Because entrepreneurs are pursuing their vision with relentless effort, rushing from one deadline to the next, putting out fires, suffering sleep deprivation, etc., etc., it’s easy to lose touch with your emotions and those of others around you. There are plenty of articles about EQ or EI that are worth checking out. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to provide a succinct blog on how to improve it … but it could be at the end of this lifetime … or in the next.