Poll: Is EI (Emotional Intelligence) More Important Than IQ?

Poll: Is EI (Emotional Intelligence) More Important Than IQ?


Empathy and emotional intelligence (EI) are important factors for talent professionals and hiring managers to consider when it comes to determining cultural fit and future success on the job.

Still, we tend to give them lip service when making hiring decisions, don’t we? We position emotional intelligence somewhere down there with other soft skills like likability, charisma, or being a good listener. What we really want are candidates who have the smarts, right? That’s what we’ve been taught. As talent professionals, we greedily tick off the boxes on our checklists, from degrees and job titles to Ivy League pedigree and other IQ-indicative factors that seem to matter much more.

Two Separate Minds
But in his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, internationally-known psychologist Daniel Goleman argues that we have two separate minds in our brains, one rational and one emotional. What’s more, we have five emotional literacy skills—including self-awareness and self-regulation—that are much better predictors and indicators of happiness and success than our usual, go-to means of measuring them, IQ. (?)

The book has been out since 2005 but Goleman has continued to improve and iterate on the premises he built in Emotional Intelligence, including other drivers of performance, such as the ability to Focus in an era of innumerable and unstoppable distractions.

As talent professionals and hiring managers, it makes sense that we’re focused on finding the right talent for our organizations, including EI and IQ factors. But we mustn’t lose sight of our talents’ professional development needs once they join our organization. And this is where the EI versus IQ debate gets really interesting.

The Floor Effect
For example, there’s a phenomenon in statistics known as the floor effect, which happens at places like Google and Ivy League
universities—anywhere where there’s a premium for admission that’s based on IQ. IQ is, in fact, a fantastic predictor of the level of cognitive complexity we can manage and understand, which is useful when sorting people into certain jobs and roles, especially technical ones. But this becomes paradoxical once the selection is made based on IQ since excellence is something defined by things other than IQ, says Goleman.

If you want to hire the best person for the job don’t look at their IQ or GPA. Rather, make a study of distinguishing competencies for the position, he says, referring to the competence modeling developed by psychology giant David McClelland. Look at the people in your organization who hold the role you’re hiring for and identify the top 10 percent by whatever metric makes sense for that particular job. Next, compare them systematically to people who are only average in that role. Then, determine the competencies or ability-sets that you find in the stars that you don’t find in the average people.

Linking Leadership Development With EI
Goleman has researched this topic extensively and separated these distinguishing competencies by purely cognitive abilities like IQ or technical skill and on other skills based on EI, or how we manage ourselves and manage our relationships. He discovered that 80 to 90 percent of the required leadership competencies were based in EI. And makes sense, he says, since leadership isn’t about being the smartest person in the room but about helping other people to be as smart at they can—which is a people skill. (1)

“My argument is that emotional and social skills give people advantages in realms where such abilities make the most difference, like love and leadership. EI trumps IQ in soft domains, where intellect matters relatively little for success. That said, another such arena where EI matters more than IQ is in performance at work, when comparing people with roughly the same educational backgrounds (like MBAs or accountants) which is exactly what goes on in human resource departments of companies every day.”

Coordinating IQ and EI
If a longitudinal study were done, Goleman argues, IQ would be a much stronger predictor than EI of which jobs or professions people can enter. Again, since IQ can measure the level of cognitive complexity a person can process, it can help predict the level of technical expertise that someone can master. IQ, then, can play an important sorting role in determining which jobs people can hold.

“But having enough cognitive intelligence to hold a given job does not by itself predict whether one will be a star performer or rise to management or leadership positions in one’s field,” Goleman concludes.

“IQ washes out when it comes to predicting who, among a talented pool of candidates within an intellectually-demanding profession, will become the strongest leader. In part this is because of the floor effect: Everyone at the top echelons of a given profession, or at the top levels of a large organization, has already been sifted for intellect and expertise. At those lofty levels, a high IQ becomes a threshold ability, one needed just to get into and stay in the game.” (2)

Do you agree? Do you favor IQ-related factors over skills of emotional intelligence when working with new hires and developing new hires into leaders? Please take a moment to share your feedback in the comments below.


(1) Goleman, Daniel. Focus: the Hidden Driver of Excellence” | Talks at Google. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9yRmpcXKjY
(2) Goleman, Daniel. When Emotional Intelligence Does Not Matter More Than IQ, March 24, 2008 (Accessed March 9, 2017): http://www.danielgoleman.info/when-emotional-intelligence-does-not-matter-more-than-iq/

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