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What’s Your EQ?
by Elizabeth LaPierre


Despite common organizational resistance to “soft” skills and focus on interpersonal development, our emotions do influence us at work. Studies show that emotional intelligence (EI) affects job performance.  Individuals and groups with high emotional intelligence are more likely to be effective and to deliver superior performance than those with lower EI.  In fact, research also tells us that the measure of an individual’s emotional intelligence, often referred to as one’s emotional intelligence quotient (EQ), can have a significantly greater impact on job performance than traditional leadership skills. This article explains why, and includes advice for those who wish to start focusing their attention on their organization’s and their own EQ.

Emotional intelligence matters. In fact, it may be the most important influencer of success on the job, according to studies done over the last decade. But what is “emotional intelligence”?  The thought leaders in the organizational development and psychology field offer a variety of definitions. In an article for Learning and Training Innovations magazine (“Can you develop emotional intelligence?”), Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves define emotional intelligence as “a fluid, social ability that explains how an individual recognizes, understands and manages emotions personally and with others.” While most of us would agree intuitively with the idea of emotional intelligence and feel confident that we have at least some EI ourselves, we may be slightly unsure about how it relates to and impacts our organizations.

Why is EI Important?

Whether we like it or not, our emotions are part of what makes us human and they follow and influence us wherever we go – including work.  Effective management of emotional intelligence is a strong predictor of success in both our personal life and in the office.  In management positions, EQ has proven to be one of the most important factors contributing to job performance as oppose to other as traditional leadership skills.

Those with high emotional intelligence are much more likely to deliver superior performance as compared to the average players, regardless of industry.  For example, EQ levels are very important for salespeople who succeed through their ability to successfully relate to, connect with, and influence others. Interestingly, the data for scientists and technically-oriented professionals also points to emotional intelligence as a necessary performance element for success in these roles – even more so than analytical thinking. 

In Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998), Daniel Goleman suggests that the more complex the job, the more EI matters.  In complex roles, having high levels of analytical and technical skills is just the threshold requirement for people to perform competently.  A deficiency of emotional intelligence can hinder the implementation of analytical and technical skills when interpersonal interaction is required to execute one’s skills because they are dependent on one’s level of emotional intelligence.  Goleman (1998) adds, “In short, out-of-control emotions can make smart people stupid.”

Emotional intelligence impacts many areas under the umbrella of organizational effectiveness, such as retention and leadership.  High turnover rates can be very costly to organizations and can deeply affect the bottom line. The upside is that employees are more likely to stay with bosses who can successfully manage their emotions, meaning they understand the impact their emotions have on others. In other words, people don’t leave jobs – they leave managers.  EI is very important in leadership roles, as leaders must have a high degree of interpersonal effectiveness to motivate others to do their jobs as well as possible. Studies show that high EQ differentiates the average performers from the superior performers, proving to be a critical performance indicator for leadership positions.

The good news is, unlike IQ, emotional intelligence skills can be taught and developed over time.  In their 2001 Harvard Business Review article “Building the emotional intelligence of groups,” Druskat and Wolff stress, “Instead of being stuck with the hand they’d been dealt, people can take steps to enhance their emotional intelligence and make themselves more effective in their work and personal lives.”  And unlike other by-products of aging, many people’s EI increases with age and maturity.  Individual EQ can be measured by a variety of assessments that help to inform and create professional development plans to effectively improve emotional intelligence and results.

Group Emotional Intelligence and Group Effectiveness

“From the perspective of work, feelings matter to the extent that they facilitate or interfere with the shared goal.” (Daniel Goleman) 

Knowledge management is the cornerstone for any organization’s success. Consider the depths of experience and data in any given company. Both expertise and knowledge are distributed throughout the organization (no one person or group contains it all), which implies that organizations are dependent on the efficient orchestration of this knowledge to learn effectively and maximize performance. A team, like other social groups, takes on an identity and personality of its own; and with that personality a group emotional intelligence level also forms and builds.  This team EQ strongly influences the degree to which the knowledge sharing is orchestrated and thus how well the team will produce results.

The applications of high group EQ are broad due to the varying levels of individual emotional intelligence on the team, i.e., the more effective team members are at working with others—collectively this impacts the organization. For example, increased clarity, achieved by sharing values and purpose, increases the group’s self-awareness and provides what Goleman (1998) describes as a “decisive self-confidence.”

Group EQ is demonstrated by factors such as trust, group identity, and group efficacy.  Thus, group emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to develop a set of norms that manage these emotional processes. Trustworthiness at work “translates into letting people know one’s values and principles, intentions and feelings, and acting in ways that are reliably consistent with them,” according to Goleman (1998).

Additionally, group identity is a necessary determinant for group EQ. Group identity clearly defines group membership and facilitates feelings of inclusiveness and attachment. The resulting identity links them with a common purpose, a necessary component for group success.  Group efficacy indicates a group’s belief that it can be effective -- and this belief fosters cooperation and collaboration.

Companies that raise their collective emotional intelligence can gain many advantages toward improved overall employee performance and financial results:

  1. Increased innovation and creative solutions
  2. Faster, more effective decisions
  3. Improved change management and ability to foster development under conditions of change
  4. Increased organizational morale
  5. Higher productivity and flexibility
  6. Faster integration with fewer delays
  7. Positive behavior change – increased teamwork
  8. Fewer hiring mistakes, better retention and lower turnover

EQ’s Effect on Real-World Success

The following examples illustrate how various organizations have leveraged emotional intelligence for strategic recruiting, enhanced performance, and improved financial results.

The United States Air Force used the Bar-On Emotional Intelligence assessment to select recruiters (the Air Force’s front-line HR personnel) and found that the most successful recruiters scored significantly higher in the emotional intelligence competencies of Assertiveness, Empathy, Happiness, and Emotional Self-Awareness.  The Air Force also found that by using emotional intelligence to select recruiters, they increased their ability to predict successful recruiters nearly three-fold.  The immediate gain was a savings of $3 million annually.  These gains resulted in the Government Accounting Office submitting a report to Congress, which in turn led to a request that the Secretary of Defense order all branches of the armed forces to adopt this procedure in recruitment and selection.  (Military Recruiting: The Department of Defense Could Improve Its Recruiter Selection and Incentive Systems, submitted by the GAO to Congress on January 30, 1998.)

As cited in Druskat and Wolff’s 2001 Harvard Business Review article, research at L’Oreal showed that sales agents selected on the basis of certain emotional competencies significantly outsold colleagues chosen with the company’s previous hiring procedure. It was later found that, on an annual basis, individual sales agents selected based on emotional competencies sold over $91,000 more than those chosen based on different criteria, for a net revenue increase of over $2.5M. Additionally, there was 63 percent less turnover during the first year among sales agents selected on the basis of emotional competence than those chosen based on L’Oreal’s historical procedure. 

At a large beverage firm that used standard methods to hire division presidents, 50 percent of them left within two years, due to poor performance, according to Druskat and Wolff (Harvard Business Review, 2001).  When the firm started selecting based on emotional competencies such as initiative, self-confidence, and leadership, only 6 percent left in two years.  Additionally, division leaders with these competencies outperformed their targets by 15 to 20 percent.  Division leaders who were found to lack emotional competencies under-performed compared to their more skilled colleagues by almost 20 percent.

It is clear from the case studies that the real-world application of emotional intelligence in an organization demonstrates clear strategic opportunities for financial gains.  While this is evident from the data, the question as to how to implement a shift in organizational focus remains.

How to Improve EQ: Tips + Advice

The common denominator in all businesses is people, and helping people work together effectively is an intuitively easy concept to grasp and attempt to implement.  Organizations are complex systems in need of several different interventions to help them grow and succeed.  Emotional intelligence will not be the single intervention that solves all problems.  However, companies that make emotional intelligence a priority and focus within their teams and for individual employees will have a strategic advantage over companies that choose to ignore the human factor.

How can you begin shifting your personal focus and your organization’s focus? 

Organizational - Focus

  1. Explore emotional intelligence through commitment to creating and sustaining an atmosphere that values self-confidence, empathy, mutuality and emotional self-awareness, and to learning more about what defines an emotionally healthy organization.

    Tip:  Employ a new strategic initiative through your HR function to assess your organization’s current support of EI development and the impact it will have on financial results; explore the development opportunities within the organization; disseminate communications around desired impact of improving individual and group EI and the desired outcomes; implement the initiative; and measure the progress.

  2. Foster emotional control and the necessity for self-awareness by explicitly and implicitly rewarding these behaviors, while also providing coaching opportunities when behavior is unsupportive of desired performance.

    Tip:  Implement EI development workshops and coaching systems, and measure these competencies through employee individual development plans (IDP’s).

  3. Generate baseline data to understand your teams’ self-awareness by using a variety of assessment options before implementing any development training; this ensures data can be evaluated and compared in the future.  Measuring progress will demonstrate successes and development points for individuals and for the organization. 

    Use a current-state assessment involving leadership, stakeholders, and team members and measure, overall, your organization’s morale using the Organization Culture Survey™.

    Individual - Focus

  4. As a leader, start with yourself and model the desired changes through your own thinking and behavior.  As our actions begin with our thoughts, think about how you want to be with your team members, stakeholders, and direct reports.  Specifically, think about the impact you want to have in the area of emotional intelligence.  How mutual am I? How much empathy do I exercise at work?

    Create an EI journal to record your perceptions of how your behaviors are impacting your team, direct reports, customers or other key stakeholders. Then reality check these with people through check-in meetings.  Record their reactions and feedback, and assess the data.  Are you as self-aware as you thought? Or are people providing you feedback that can help you improve and understand your true impact?

  5. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes and really try to understand where they may be coming from.  This is the single most difficult perspective to take in the workplace due to the fast pace at which people are expected to move and deliver.  Remember, you may get what you need if you can think about the other person’s point of view before engaging with them. 

    Before an important meeting with team members or direct reports, write a narrative from the perspective of people whom you will be engaging with.  How do they see you? What was your impact on them? Write this story in the past tense, as if it already happened.  If you know there will be disagreements due to the nature of the conversation, how did you handle the confrontation?  Read this story after the meeting and record what actually happened to see if there are development opportunities.

Creating an organizational shift toward fostering emotional intelligence within your individual employees, your leadership teams, and other teams is no small undertaking.  Like any change, it will not stick unless the proper thinking, planning, measures and support systems are in place.  Additionally, the strategic reasoning must be carefully discussed and aligned among leadership before the company makes financial investments and time commitments.  It is a strategic decision to mature your organization’s mode of operation to support the human factor and emotional intelligence development of your employees in order to take the organization to the next level of success.  All the more reason to engage in the right conversations, collect necessary data, and align around how to implement the changes and evaluate the return on investment so you can achieve top results.

Stone + Company, a management and strategy consulting firm, leverages emotional intelligence development through an approach rooted in a model that enables clients to focus on their most critical strategic work so as to balance a results-oriented business perspective (financial, customers, and employees) with a development-oriented business perspective (the work, the team, and the individual). In our experience, it is only when an organization balances both results and how those are developed over time that it can and will achieve sustainable success.


The Author

Elizabeth LaPiere

As a senior consultant at Stone + Company, Elizabeth LaPierre brings clients a wealth of analyst, consulting and project management experience in both start-up and mature business environments.  Ms. LaPierre helps provide a transformative strategic planning process for clients including non-profits and companies in the pharmaceutical, insurance, high-tech, and consumer product industries.   Elizabeth holds a B.A. in Psychology and Marketing from Boston University, and an M.S. in Adult and Organizational Learning from Suffolk University.  Her current professional affiliations include the Society for Human Resource Management, the American Society of Training and Development, and the Massachusetts Organization Development Learning Group.

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Copyright 2009 by Elizabeth LaPierre. All rights reserved.

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