Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is an important to leadership success as cognitive intelligence. But why? (Episode 16)


Why Emotional Intelligence Matters for Leaders

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is as important to leadership success as cognitive intelligence. But why? (Episode 16)

Publish Date: January 8, 2020

Episode Length: 33 minutes

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In this Episode

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is an important to leadership success as cognitive intelligence. But why? Can EQ be developed? And can it even be faked? In this episode, EQ expert and author Adele Lynn provides the surprising answers. (Episode 16)


Craig Irons: Hello and welcome again to The Leadership 480 Podcast from DDI. My name is Craig Irons and I'll be your host today. You know, is it always the smartest people who get ahead and advance in their careers? Well, it's a debatable question. After all, there are different kinds of intelligence. There is cognitive intelligence, which Wikipedia tells us is the ability to reason, to solve problems, to comprehend complex ideas and so forth. Then there's emotional intelligence or EQ, which is equally important and that's what we're going to be talking about today.

Our guest is one of the foremost authorities on emotional intelligence. Adele Lynn is founder of the Lynn Leadership Group. She has consulted to dozens of organizations and she's also the author of seven books that have been published in 15 languages, including The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. Adele Lynn, welcome to The Leadership 480 Podcast.

Adele Lynn: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Craig Irons: So let's start by defining what emotional intelligence is for our listeners who may not be familiar with the term. What is it and why do leaders need to have emotional intelligence?

Adele Lynn: Well, there's a few different definitions of emotional intelligence out there, but I like to look at emotional intelligence as something that is applied. So the definition that I use is it's the ability to manage myself and then my relationships with others so that I can live my intentions and reach my goals. So it's very practical. Each piece of that definition, it starts with self, it reaches out to other people and it has a purpose behind it.

Craig Irons: Okay. So it doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's more, it's more about how you use it.

Adele Lynn: That's exactly right.

Craig Irons: Okay. So I've heard the term EQ or emotional intelligence for probably 20 years or whatever at this point. So it goes back a little bit. What's sort of the origin and the science behind it?

Adele Lynn: Well, the origin, it is at least 20 years old at this point. I'd have to count and actually say when was its birthday. But essentially when we were looking at different types of intelligences, it was defined as another type of intelligence. And of course there's multiple types of intelligence, et cetera. But whenever they began to look at its impact on success, it became very, very interesting. And the science behind it has become much more sophisticated over the years because of the brain research that we can actually see what's happening in the brain at different points when people are communicating. And so it's, the science has become much more sophisticated. And of course, Daniel Goleman made it popular, but it was actually before Daniel Goleman that it was defined.

Craig Irons: Okay. And Daniel Goleman is the author of a couple of [crosstalk :43] books.

Adele Lynn: Absolutely. And he did a lot to raise the awareness of why emotional intelligence is important.

Craig Irons: Fantastic. So what about you? How did you get interested in emotional intelligence and make it such a focal point of what you do?

Adele Lynn: Well, my interest always came on the practical side. So, I'm the kind of person that if you to tell me there's some research behind something, it's like, "Well, that's great, but what does that mean for me in my everyday world? How do I apply it?" So I became very interested when I first heard the concept. To say, "Well, okay, so how can people use it in their life and in particular in their work life?" Because that's where my focus was. So, and my interest was really kind of spurred out of the notion of trust and respect. How do you gain trust and respect in the workplace? Because that's where I was focused. And to me, emotional intelligence was just a natural bridge.

Craig Irons: So in your book, The EQ Difference, you write about the five areas of emotional intelligence at work. Can you give us an overview of what those are and sort of walk us through them?

Adele Lynn: Okay. So the five areas of emotional intelligence that I define, the first is self-awareness and control. And I actually combine those as one. Okay. Not two separate items because to me to have self-awareness and not have self-control is kind of senseless. I mean really, what's the purpose of being aware if you don't do something about it. The second area is empathy. So if I have self-awareness and control and I can empathize with where another person is coming from, that's incredibly important from the point of view of building a relationship. The third area is what I call social expertness and it encompasses a few things. It encompasses this whole idea of how do I build coalitions? How do I garner a collaboration? It also involves how do I solve conflict? Because the minute you have a relationship with someone, I can guarantee you in the second minute you may have conflict.

So it's one thing to have the relationship, it's another to be able to proceed in that relationship in a healthy way, which is by resolving conflict, et cetera. The fourth area is what I call personal influence. And that is really the essence of where leadership lives. But leadership can't live there without those other three areas that I just defined. So personal influence is the fourth. And the fifth is what I call mastery of vision and purpose. We all really have to know what our compass is and where it's pointing. And once we have that, it makes the whole avenue kind of clear. We know where we're going, how we're going to get there because we know who we are, what we stand for. So those are the five areas as I define it.

Craig Irons: So as you describe them, I think we can all agree we've all had leaders or been exposed to leaders who are lacking in at least one of those areas. So, when leaders lack emotional intelligence, what are the risks or the potential costs to their careers, their teams or organizations?

Adele Lynn: Well, there's a lot of risk for leaders on a lot of fronts. Emotional intelligence is just one of the fronts, okay? And it's so obviously the front that I'm most familiar with. But what happens is, is that if we don't have strong emotional intelligence, then our ability to lead is actually compromised. Leadership can be compromised on many fronts like ethics for example, et cetera. But if we can't connect, if we can't have that relationship with someone and know that the ways in which we can inspire and motivate and bring out the best, then our ability is also compromised. If we don't know what we stand for, our ability is compromised to lead and to influence. And if we can't empathize, it's compromised.

Adele Lynn: So all of these things put leaders at risk and if not at ... and it could be at risk certainly for their careers because some of those things are dead ends if we can't relate. However, it certainly puts you at risk for being less effective. And then we might just kind of get marginalized in our careers. So it's a very important skill to have. But it's not the only thing that matters. And sometimes I get annoyed with people like me who are experts, who tout their expertise as being the only thing that matters, because it's not, because leaders can be derailed, as I said, through ethics. I look at it as a three-legged stool. I call EQ, IQ and ethics. The EQ being the part that I just described.

But the IQ, and I don't necessarily mean book smarts, but I mean the ability to look at processes and systems and put the best rational thinking forward is also quite important and can derail you. And of course, like we said, ethics can as well.

Craig Irons: We're talking today to Adele Lynn, an expert in emotional intelligence. Adele, as we talked about earlier, emotional intelligence is a concept that's been around for decades and we're still talking about it today and we're not the only ones. If you could probably open a business publication now or you're very likely to find some reference to emotional intelligence. So my question is why do you think this concept has had such staying power and continued relevance?

Adele Lynn: Well, I think a couple of things have kind of converged to make it relevant, continued relevance today. And one is, is that I think that leaders and employees have grown. And leaders are more aware than they were maybe when I became a leader. And I have a story about that, that we'll share later. Okay. If you like. Okay.

Craig Irons: Yeah, we're going to delve into your experience as a leader here for sure.

Adele Lynn: So, one, I think that leaders are more aware, they recognize how important it is that they experience self-awareness and also then are able to maintain self-control, et cetera, in the workplace. So I think that that's one thing. But I think employees are also more self-aware and they have a better sense of what they need in the workplace or what they want and therefore won't necessarily put up with ineffective kinds of leadership of the past, maybe of my generation.

Craig Irons: So, is EQ something you can fake?

Adele Lynn: Yes, absolutely. To a point. And then something is going to catch up with you. But absolutely I can teach people to fake EQ. And in fact, if you want to look at an interesting point, some of the people who are best at EQ are psychopaths. They can manipulate, they can come across as charming and likable and get you to do just about anything. In fact, my early work on EQ was actually on trust. How do you build trust? And my experience was that I actually interviewed people who were in jail for crimes that they had committed, but crimes of trust. In other words, they didn't necessarily say, "Stick them up, and give me your wallet." But instead they gained people's trust and then people willingly turned over their assets, et cetera.

Adele Lynn: So crimes of trust have been around for a very long time. And what we realized that people who commit crimes of trust know very much how to gain your trust and then they abuse it. So that's why you said, can you fake emotional intelligence? Yes, you can fake it to a point because more than likely then you will abuse it.

Craig Irons: So when you say a crime of trust, I think one that comes to mind for me would be like embezzling.

Adele Lynn: Absolutely.

Craig Irons: Or something like that.

Adele Lynn: Yes. And it's your most trusted employee, the one you would never suspect, et cetera, et cetera, that has this side that they're doing.

Craig Irons: And I have to tell you, you used the word psychopaths and also earlier you talked about the three stools of emotional intelligence, cognitive intelligence and ethics. And we had a guest here recently on talking about ethics. And I believe what she said was that psychopaths make the best surgeons.

Adele Lynn: Absolutely.

Craig Irons: Which, well I was very taken aback by that sentiment. But now that I've had some time to reflect on it and we're having this conversation today, it makes more sense to me. So that's really interesting. How can leaders develop EQ?

Adele Lynn: That actually is a very important question and it is what I've sort of dedicated my life to believing is very, very important that leaders can develop EQ, because there are some schools of thought that say that EQ is like IQ in that it's kind of a fixed quantity. And I sort of subscribe to the fact that I think it is definitely something that we can improve. So and that improvement really has to start with the leader taking steps to look inside, to be self-reflective, to say, "How is my behavior impacting other people? What am I doing that is bringing out the best in people? But also what am I doing? What are my habits and my characteristics that bring out the worst in people? Because as I am aware of those things and also as I'm aware of what triggers my reactions in the workplace, then and only then can I change them." And then they can be conscious steps to take you to the next level.

Craig Irons: So is it possible to be born with EQ?

Adele Lynn: I do think that it is, there is a range in which people have, in terms of EQ, and some have more or less than others in certain aspects. So yes, I think there's a range, but I think that all of us can work within our range to get better or not to improve at all.

Craig Irons: Sure. I'd like to spend a few minutes talking about your experience as a leader. Obviously, yeah, you've owned your own company for a long time that you started, so you're an entrepreneur. So, we all have that one point at which we become a leader for the first time and that can be a very challenging moment or point of transition. What was that like for you?

Adele Lynn: It was horrendous. And it came as I was locked in a sewer line below the streets and the manhole cover closed and I realized that I had no business in the leadership position I was in. So there was a story, obviously.

Craig Irons: My ears are, if we were on video, you could see my ears kind of be perked up at this.

Adele Lynn: Well, when I first got ... So in my last semester of college I was doing some research on pregnancy rates of female, well obviously female rodents would be the ones that would have pregnancy rates, and how to change that and to eradicate the rodent problem. So yes, we're talking rats. Okay? So, I graduated, the research was finished. I graduated all as well. Well, I got a call like the next week and it was my advisor who said, "I've got the perfect job for you. We got a grant and we would like for you to lead a team and we're going to apply your research to see if we can make a difference." Right? So it's like I had the technical knowledge, right? Yeah. I kind of knew what I was doing from that point of view. I had zero leadership abilities.

Seriously, zero. But I said, "Sure. I'd love to do that." I I was given a crew. So part of the crew was, well, all of the crew, this was a grant and it was to help people gain employment skills who didn't have a lot of employment history or they didn't have a good employment history. So it was kind of a double-edged sword in terms of the grant. It was to eradicate the rodents and to make a difference in people's lives by giving them usable skills. So, I thought I'll jump all over that. And of course I thought that was fun. So my idea of how to be a leader was to be friendly with people. And I still believe that, I still to this day, many, many, many years later, decades and decades later, still believe that it is important to be personable and to relate to people. It's still very core to what I believe.

But I didn't understand the other side of leadership. So what I did was I swung erratically and chaotically between trying to be friendly and nice and trying to say, "Well, [inaudible :32] you have to be here. Instead of showing up at noon, you need to show up at 8:00, okay?" And I couldn't get it. I did not get it, because I didn't understand what leadership was all about.

Craig Irons: So how did that light bulb begin to come on for you?

Adele Lynn: Okay, so there came a moment when I was down in the sewer and I was the last one out going up and the crew decided to, I'm going to use this as a verb, "prank" me. And they put the manhole cover on. And all of a sudden I'm thinking like, "Okay, this should be a wake up call. You know nothing about leadership. You're sitting here in a sewer. Okay?" Of course the crew came back for me and opened the, you know, and everything was fine or there wouldn't be a story to tell. But the bottom line is, is that from that moment forward, I said, "I don't know anything and there's something to know here." And I began to ask questions.

Craig Irons: Adele, I have to tell you, if we do this podcast five more years, we will not hear a better story [crosstalk :37].

Adele Lynn: Well, I don't know about that, but it was truly a wake up call. And I still hear from some of the guys on that crew who have done an amazing job with their lives and are true success stories. But I also know that it was my humblest moment because I did not lead at all.

So and we all have that moment where we're humbled a bit, and I can think back to a situation, myself, when I encountered that as a young leader, but we don't always overcome it on our own. Did you have a mentor? Did you have someone who was important to helping you make the transition?

Adele Lynn: I had so many that it's difficult to call out one, but what that early failure did, it came at a perfect time, because it came so early in my career and it really did open my eyes and humbled me to say, "I don't know anything about this." So what happened was this, that I started to get curious around this idea of how do people lead? How do you do this? So, in essence, and I was still young and young enough to be naive and ask questions. So essentially I asked questions of anyone that I could find, okay. From anyone in leadership who would talk to me, to people on the shop floor, because my next assignment was in a steel mill. Okay.

So people on the shop floor to union leaders. And I said, "Tell me, how do I gain trust and respect? How do I do that?" And over the years I've collected over a thousand interviews, but all of those people I think were pieces of my mentoring. But then I had a few that were really standouts.

Craig Irons: We're talking today with Adele Lynn, an author and an expert on emotional intelligence. Adele, I want to kind of bring the two things together, your early experiences as a leader and then our earlier discussion here around emotional intelligence. So, we all look back on our younger selves and think, "Boy, if I only knew then what I know now." But in your case where you know so much and recognize so much the value of emotional intelligence, that might've really helped you early on wouldn't it?

Adele Lynn: It may have. And it certainly did help me connect with like subject matter experts because I can kind of connect and have the conversation with them and really had a desire to learn. But ultimately I still did though ... I made all the mistakes I think that all leaders make, one was the swinging and the chaos, but also just not being able, I mean, leadership is stressful. When you're working, there's a million things coming at you at a hundred miles an hour. So I had myself to manage too, because I am feeling the stresses of the workplace and the pressure to perform. So I also had to learn how to manage that. And none of that was innate for me. Maybe some of the relationship may have been stuff may have been a little innate, but managing myself was not. So I still had a lot to learn along the way.

Craig Irons: You still are talking to a lot of people, you're still interacting with different companies and consulting and so forth. So, and just actually before we sat down and started recording this, you and I were talking about how much things have changed. To what extent do you feel leadership has changed over the time that you've been studying it?

Adele Lynn: I think that leadership now is much more well defined. We know what ... although it can come in a lot of varieties, leadership can come in a lot of varieties. I think we have a much better idea of the types of skills and the types of attributes that are going to carry you well into that leadership role. And also the kind that are going to, we talked a little bit earlier about risk, the kind that are going to put you at risk. And I think the DDI has done a remarkable job in some of that research and leading the way and recognizing that there's a lot of bodies of science behind leadership now. And using that to kind of hone in on what do we need to help leaders do or become. And I think it's become much more sophisticated.

Craig Irons: So companies, employers now they'll offer training that will help people develop their emotional intelligence. But not all of them do. And our listeners who are tuning in here today, they may feel like, okay, in their organization they don't have the option to go sign up for a course because there may not be one. So as far as someone's sort of taking it upon themselves to develop their own emotional intelligence, what guidance would you give them for starting that process?

Adele Lynn: I would really encourage anyone, and this doesn't even mean just leaders. It means anyone in any ... if anybody at all is serious about their career. Just start asking questions of their coworkers, of their what can I do differently? What do I do that gets on your nerves? How can I be better in what I'm doing? Ask questions, seek that feedback because if we think we know it all, we don't. And the more we can put ourselves out there and put ourselves at risk by asking those kinds of questions, the less at risk we become in terms of our career.

Craig Irons: So for a few decades we've been talking about emotional intelligence and it seems like that conversation is not one that is slowing down. So I guess that sort of raises a question in my mind is, is emotional intelligence, is it something that we have the capability to get better at? Or is it something that's always kind of going to be with us with some people are going to have more emotional intelligence than others? What's your take on that?

Adele Lynn: Well and just so you are aware, there are actually two schools of thought on this. One is that it is a fixed sum. Just like my ability to do math is maybe a fixed sum. Okay. But I can still learn to do certain things, but I have to apply myself. Right? With emotional intelligence, I tend to believe that there is a fixed area where you may not be able to improve any more, but that is a pretty vast ... for most people, it's a pretty vast space that you can improve yourself. You can get feedback, you can find out what you can do to be more effective in the way you manage herself and the way you manage others. And therefore, you can be more influential because you know how to inspire and engage and motivate.

Craig Irons: What about if you have a colleague or maybe even a manager who you recognize as having low EQ. How can you give them meaningful feedback or information that they can use? Because that can be awkward, but if you're going to help people grow and develop, sometimes they need to get that feedback, don't they?

Adele Lynn: Absolutely. And that leads us to those difficult conversations that we sometimes have to have. But if I come from the place that I truly, genuinely care about your success, and I'm telling you this because of that, and not only, I'm not just telling you something, I'm going to ask your permission first if I may, and then I'm going to stick around and I'm going to say, "I'm also here to help you in any way I can." Then that person's defensiveness for hearing the message may go down, which is a good thing, because once we drop our defenses, then we're open to learning. And at that point then we make it a dialogue. We don't make it a one way here's the feedback, here's what you need to do to improve. But it becomes a dialogue. And as a leader, that really is our trick. I mean that is our trick.

Adele Lynn: If we have something that we can do well and we can do that, we can change our organizations. And you know, there's some other piece of me though that also ... I've also worked with some great people who are really good performers, who are never going to be stellar on the emotional intelligence front. If I'm the more emotional intelligent, if that comes easy for me, then I'm the one who needs to recognize that that's going to be a constant struggle for that person. And I'm the one who needs to apply my empathy toward that. So I think there's a lot that we can do.

Craig Irons: Any one sort of big piece of advice you would offer to leaders or people who aspire to become leaders when it comes to emotional intelligence?

Adele Lynn: Stop trying to have the answers, step back, allow others to have the answers and then fuel that. Fuel that, take it in the direction you want to take it. Lead it, obviously, with your vision, et cetera. But your job is not to tell, it's to step back and fan the flames of genius that are already in your workplace.

Craig Irons: One more question, Adele, and this is a question we ask all of our guests, can you share a moment of leadership that had an impact on you?

Adele Lynn: Okay, so that's an interesting question for me. And it came actually late in life in my career. Okay. About 10 years or so ago, my husband passed away instantly, so there was no warning, there was no preparation and I was in the midst of running my business. And it was a very busy time in my life. And someone I was coaching, a CEO that I was coaching. So this is how you learn from the people that you also work with. So a CEO that I was coaching said to me, "Your capacity's going to be way down. You're not going to be able to do for a while, because grief is very consuming." And I thought, "Hmm, that's really interesting." And then he said to me, "But I know you'll know what to do." And I didn't know what to do. Okay. So I wanted the answer from him.

 Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be coaching him. So I went to my staff and I said, they knew it was a horrible time. I mean, there was no needing to explain that. And I just got out of the way and they said, "Don't worry, we've got this." So the lesson is, is you don't need to have it all if you have your people and they can do it for you. So it was a very profound moment in my life when I recognized how people will really come through for you.

Craig Irons: Yeah. It's wonderful. Adele Lynn, author, expert on emotional intelligence. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Adele Lynn: My pleasure. I was glad to be here, Craig. Thank you for inviting me.

Craig Irons: And thank you to our listeners, as always, for joining us. And this is Craig Irons reminding you to make every moment of leadership count.

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