When helping a CEO assess their leadership team one of the questions we ask is, “Who on your team understands and exhibits emotional intelligence?” This has presented us with two common pitfalls:

  1. Most leaders do not know how to define or identify emotional intelligence.
  2. Because emotional intelligence is poorly defined, leaders consistently rate people they perceive as ‘soft’ high in emotional intelligence and rate those with a more gruff exterior low in emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence, however, has little, if anything, to do with how gruff one comes across. Daniel Goleman, in his classic Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Leader,” makes the concept of emotional intelligence concrete by breaking it down into five component skills. A person high in these skills will be high in emotional intelligence. Here are the skills along with Goleman’s descriptions:

  • Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand one’s moods, emotions, and drives as well as identify how they affect others.
  • Self-regulation is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment, taking the time to think before acting.
  • Motivation is a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status, pursuing goals with energy and tenacity.
  • Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and skill in treating people according to their emotional needs.
  • Social Skill is proficiency in managing relationships and building networks. It allows the leader to find common ground and build rapport.

Goleman also identifies the hallmarks of the skills in practice. I highly recommend the article for any leader who wants to understand emotional intelligence.