This is the first of 3 blogs on Emotional Intelligence (EI). This first blog will address how EI is Important But Overrated. Blog 2 and blog 3 will focus on how managers trained in EI help companies perform better and how to coach to improve emotional intelligence.

The “politically correct” view of leadership states that emotional intelligence (EI) is THE most important leadership competency. With the recent focus on sexual harassment, what could be more important than managers (especially) tuning in more to their own emotions, tuning in more to others’ emotions, and then having the self-discipline to treat everyone with respect?

Aside from this this important issue, for a couple of decades books, articles, training programs, and academic research have made it “obvious”: leaders who are sensitive to the needs of others, in tune with their emotions and others’ emotions, those that listen well and empathize, can “obviously” build the relationships and trust, and they earn the respect to achieve outstanding results. Trouble is, our extensive experience based on in-depth interviews with over 35,000 candidates for executive positions, connected to their actual results, and documented in academic research (Harvard and U. Chicago) shows that Emotional Intelligence is important but not as important as driving for results. 

EI is important: Before taking EI down a notch I’ll be a bit defensive and try to establish my EI “creds.” One of my consulting programs increased EI at General Electric when Jack Welch was CEO – those were the days in the 1980s and 1900s when GE was the most respected and most valuable (market cap) company in the world. I designed and implemented a program in which ALL managers at GE had to achieve at least a 7 on a 10-point scale on treating people with respect (“Exhibiting GE Values”) or no matter how good their operating results, they’d be fired. Why? Jack had seen the results – when Topgrading Professionals coached executives to improve their EI, those executives got BETTER operating results. Tens of thousands of managers improved their EI. How they improved is a topic for the next blog. I’m just trying to show that I really, really do believe that EI is important.

In my company Topgrading Professionals have interviewed over 20,000 candidates for top positions, and we have tracked their results. My son’s company, ghSmart, has a similar number.  I’m analyzing our reports to see how important EI is, and Geoff has done the same. The May/June, 2017 cover of Harvard Business Review featured the systematic study (with Harvard and U. Chicago professors) of Geoff’s professionals’ assessments of candidates for senior executive positions … and exactly what competencies correlate with results achieved.

We assume that managers good or better at Treating People with Respect will both be self-aware and possess a level of emotional intelligence to not be guilty of damaging or derogatory actions such as sexual harassment.

EI IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPETENCY: One study looked at 313 new CEOs in private equity firms – all interviewed and recommended by my son’s professionals. In a study by the U. of Chicago, two groups were separated:

  • Excellent in Driving For Results, and Good (not Very Good, not Only Fair or Poor) in EI
  • Excellent in EI, and Good at Driving for Results.

The “results” were clear and objective: the IRR (Internal Rate of Return) achieved – how much money they made for the private equity firm

One group far outperformed the other. Which one? You can guess: the CEOs that were Excellent at Driving for Results.

By the way, our research resulted in a prediction that Jeffrey Immelt’s results would not be as good as Jack Welch’s (and they were not), because Welch was Excellent at Driving For Results (and became better than Good at Emotional Intelligence), whereas Immelt’s reputation is that of a leader Excellent at EI but only Good at Driving For Results.  One document had pictures of Welch and Immelt with the advice: Hire a CEO like Welch, not Immelt.

Okay, you say, EI is important but not THE most important competency … so is it possible to coach my managers to improve in their EI? Stay tuned for the next two blogs …