High EQ EQuates to Better Leadership

While the term “IQ” is fully embedded in our vernacular, we are starting to become more aware of a concept that may be just as important, if not more: EQ. Short for “emotional quotient,” EQ is also occasionally referred to as EI or emotional intelligence. EQ is defined as someone’s ability to perceive, understand and manage their own feelings and emotions. For leaders in the workplace, EQ can be a gamechanger.


For years, there has been heavy emphasis placed on IQ and its ability to predict success. That’s an outdated notion, says Abby Waters, a certified Talent Management Coach who works with executives and teams on EQ regularly through her consulting agency Grow-Coach. According to Waters, companies that invest in EQ are seeing a higher success rate than those who are not. “Science shows people don’t get very far in their profession if they don’t utilize emotional intelligence,” says Waters, adding that high EQ--over IQ--can set good leaders apart.



While EQ was established as a concept in psychology back in the 1990s, it has started to gain traction more recently for two defining reasons:

  1. Its link to higher job satisfaction for those with high EQ as well as employees who work with or are managed by those with high EQ

  2. Its positive correlation with job performance

Daniel Goleman, renowned expert on emotional intelligence who has studied the phenomenon for years, had this to say about EQ in the workplace: ““The interest in emotional intelligence in the workplace stems from the widespread recognition that these abilities – self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill – separate the most successful workers and leaders from the average. This is especially true in roles like the professions and higher level executives, where everyone is about as smart as everyone else, and how people manage themselves and their relationships gives the best and edge.”

What does EQ look like in action?

EQ plays out through the thought process. Before we have an intellectual thought, we first have an emotional thought; emotion always comes before intellect. So we have an emotional response, either positive or negative, before experiencing intellectual stimulation. Our ability to recognize these emotions and train ourselves to harness them appropriately is really the groundwork for EQ.


When Waters consults with companies, she runs through several different assessments, including the well-known personality questionnaires like DiSC or Myers-Briggs, which can establish a baseline for differing personality styles within the workplace and how employees can function in the company most efficiently based on that information.


In addition, Waters has a separate EQ assessment she gives to help people discern if they’re in the right career and if they are fully utilizing their talents in the workplace. These assessments can be helpful for anyone at any level in any industry. And one key, distinguishing feature of having an EQ assessment done is obtaining information you can use for personal growth and development.


“I think it’s the most practical and anyone can use it,” says Waters. “The information can be really valuable to find out what energizes you or what stresses you out.”


The most common area for individuals to grow is self-regulation. Practicing self-regulation skills can be as simple as learning to pause, recognize a strong emotion (anxiety, fear, anger) and take time to process before you respond. While the concept sounds basic, many people are often unaware that they have issues with self-regulation until they start self-reflecting. A perfect example is the coworker who gets on a zoom meeting a few minutes late and immediately goes into a diatribe about their sick daughter and how stressed out they are, rather than just making a quick apology for being late and letting the meeting proceed.


It’s also okay to sit with your feelings for a day or two before responding to a coworker, whether it’s an email or a conversation that you need to put on pause. In our need-to-know, instant-response culture, this can surprise some people, but it’s important for developing self-regulation.


Why should EQ matter to leaders?

In our current climate, leaders practicing EQ are even more valuable than ever. People take notice and are attracted to working for leaders who are practicing EQ in the workplace, because they are able to lead calmly in times of crisis (like a pandemic) and are easily able to pivot however they need to in order to adjust to changing circumstances. They are also able to stay in tune with their employees, which is incredibly useful, now and always.


For leaders, the benefit of strengthening EQ is two-fold. Not only will you become a better leader, but your employees will become more engaged. As you are able to leverage your EQ and, assumingly, the EQ of others, your workplace will be healthier, with more open dialogue and interaction. “Can you imagine the transformation of these companies who really put this stuff forward?’ asks Waters. “Your leadership abilities are not equated with your title or your talent, they’re actually equated with how you behave and act.”