In building a leadership team, most C-suite execs demand a premium blend of experience and education, with position profiles reciting an oft-anticipated recruitment laundry list:


  • "X" years of experience in [preferred skill set],
  • progressive management roles,
  • proven metrics, and
  • [Masters education] preferred

It's a safe and generally proven approach, however, over the past decade a new dialogue has catalyzed on an emerging, highly sought skill: emotional intelligence ("EQ").

The term, coined via research in 1990 and first used by Daniel Goleman in 1995, encompasses self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy, and social aptitude - all strong indicators of effective leadership.

Sounds fluffy. Is it real? 

Absolutely. The year the term was coined, fMRI was invented and for the first time, scientists could visually capture brain activity in action - helping prove the mechanisms of charisma and when emotional reasoning trumps IQ. This is how emotional intelligence became a key leadership skill. It lends performance over and above traditional aspects of leadership (think intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision) which render insufficient in absence of emotional intelligence. This of course begs the question, is EQ more important than IQ? 

Seems so. On top of scientifically proven superiority in leadership, emotional intelligence is just plain likeable (think Buffett, Burns, Schultz, and Nooyi). While a perfect candidate excels across all "3 Es"(experience, education, emotional intelligence) these types are hardly a dime a dozen.

Then...what do you do?

The combination of brilliance, experience, and invaluable intelligence to read, understand, and motivate people is rare; and recruiters, startups, and C-suites are all seeking what's become the unicorn of executive leadership. It's an age old ring match of book smart versus street smart, but at some point a call must be made. Enter: the compromise.

With EQ hype at its peak, a trend has emerged when an offer hits the table: all other qualities considered equal, CEOs are leaning toward candidates with stronger emotional intelligence - effectively compromising a few IQ points. The widespread belief is that the right personality, work ethic, and willingness to learn are more fruitful (long term) than taking a shoe-horn approach to shiny GPAs with less social savvy.

It's hard to argue this approach when emotionally intelligent leaders have just been proven to boost financial performance. Add to that cultural norming and acceptance of startups and widespread entrepreneurship (AKA comfort with risk, growth potential, and innovation) and the perception of compromise is mitigated. 

This is not to say education is not valuable: it absolutely is. But it's not an automatic or sole indicator of success.

Some say you can't teach leadership. But when it comes to EQ, some things truly can't be taught. What are your leadership ingredients?

Read more: Learn how to determine emotional intelligence here