Guest Blog: The Most Important Leadership Quality

There has been an endless debate on which leadership quality is more important, experience or intelligence (IQ). After more than 25 years in leadership roles, I would argue that both qualities are essential, but are less important than a third quality – emotional intelligence. In fact, some studies have shown that emotional intelligence is the strongest predicter of performance and accounts for almost 90% of what sets high performers apart. The good news is that, just like any other skill, emotional intelligence can be learned and developed.

What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand emotions (both yours and others around you), and then manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, make sound decisions, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.
Let me give you an example. Have you ever been in a meeting when it seems like everyone is talking over each other, trying to get the loudest or last word? This is not only a sign of egos taking over and a lack of respect for others; these are also tell-tale signs of a lack of EQ. On the other hand, when people are allowed to speak, and others listen, without constant interruptions, it’s a good sign of EQ at play. It shows a mutual respect and is more likely to lead to a constructive conclusion in meetings.

3 Steps to Developing EQ

EQ is often defined by four attributes, each of which is a skill that can be developed in order to improve your ability to manage emotions and connect with others. These skills are self-management, self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management. Developing EQ starts with gaining insight into which aspect of EQ we should work on. Some of us may have solid social skills but lack in self-management while others may be high on self-awareness but poor in relationship management.

1. Assessment – The first step is measuring where we stand on each of the EQ attributes. EQ tests or quizzes are widely available online, or if you’re seeking training in a professional setting, there will be materials provided to you for assessing your emotional intelligence. The scores from the tests signal which emotional skills we need to learn, and where do we stand as an emotionally aware human being.

2. Training – Assessment opens us to a range of training options. Depending on what part of emotional intelligence we need to work on, we can decide what sort of training would best suit us. There’s no shortage of resources to support the development of EQ, including professional coaches, online activities and exercises, online EQ tools, online worksheets and workbooks, programs, workshops, webinars and videos (e.g. TED Talks, YouTube and even movies).

3. Practice – The final and the most important step of developing EQ is incorporating training into real life. Like any other training, it’s only productive when implementing in real-life situations. The skills and techniques from training can be used when: (1) interacting with people at personal and professional levels; (2) understanding and labeling our own emotions; (3) expressing what we feel in a way that will not upset others; and (4) understanding others’ feelings while listening to them without judgment.

Humans vary greatly in the way we experience emotions. Even after practice and effort, you can’t control how you feel, but you can control your reactions to those feelings. For example, you’ll still get angry, but by developing a method to deal with that anger, you work to avoid hurting yourself (and others). And remember, while you might excel at your job technically, if you can’t effectively communicate or collaborate with others, especially in stressful situations, those technical skills will eventually get overlooked. By developing EQ, you’ll continue to advance your career and your personal relationships.


By Richard Schwan, Executive Vice President, Affinity Credit Union