Build Your Leaders

Self-Awareness Can Be More Important than IQ or Experience in Business Success

By Barbara A. Bissonnette, Principal, Forward Motion Coaching

A growing body of research confirms that well developed emotional intelligence (or what used to be called “people skills”) plays a bigger role in job success than intelligence, technical skill, and experience. In fact, these skills become increasingly important as job complexity increases, and intangibles like “leading and motivating” become key requirements.

Emotional intelligence can be broadly defined as an individual’s ability to understand and manage his or her own emotions, and to respond empathically and authentically to others. Daniel Goleman popularized the concept in two hugely popular books, Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence. He identifies five “EI” categories (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill) that enable people to develop a host of specific competencies, including self-confidence, initiative, achievement drive, service orientation, and persuasiveness.1

Goleman found that 67% of the abilities needed for effective performance were EI competencies, and that IQ accounts for only about 25% of job success.2 Hallmarks of emotionally savvy managers are things like being able to accurately assess one’s strengths and weaknesses, develop trust and get buy-in from others on projects, think before taking action, and other characteristics commonly associated with seasoned and effective leaders.

It’s easy to relegate emotional intelligence to the “nice to have” or “someday” pile since early steps up the corporate ladder are often predicated on hard skills, like technical acumen and track record. However, the inherent difficulty of not seeing ourselves as others do can become a real career liability. Fully 40% of new executives fail within their first 18 months on the job,3 and  “insensitivity to others” is ranked the number one reason for executive derailment.4  A poor relationship with a supervisor is consistently sited as the top reason that people leave their jobs.

While the good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned, it does require commitment and courage to change personal patterns of interacting that have their roots in childhood. Emotional competencies are governed by a different area of the brain than cognitive learning,5 so traditional one or two day training seminars are not effective for learning new “emotional habits.”

It takes on-going practice and reinforcement to learn new “emotional habits,” which helps explain the effectiveness of professional coaching in business settings.

Given the growing concern about finding and retaining top talent, organizations would do well to incorporate EI competencies into development activities for promising individuals throughout the ranks. Similarly, individuals would be wise to cultivate “soft skills” with as much fervor as they do hard line activities to help assure a smoother career climb and more satisfying view at the top.

1 Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, © 1998, Bantam Books 
2 Mike Johnson, Winning the People Wars: Talent and the Battle for Human Capital,
   Prentice Hall
3 Morgan W. McCall Jr. and Michael M. Lombardo, “What Makes a Top Executive?”
   Psychology Today,
February 1983
4 Cary Cherniss, Ph.D., Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., Robert Emmerling, Kimberly Cowan,
   and Mitchel Adler, “A Technical Report Issued by The Consortium for Research on
   Emotional Intelligence in Organizations.”

© 2006, Barbara Bissonnette. All rights reserved.
Barbara Bissonnette helps business people function more effectively by leveraging their natural strengths and eliminating self-defeating behavior patterns. A certified coach and principal of Forward Motion Coaching (, she is the author of The Personality of Business: Manage Your Style for Greater Success, which is available at no charge through her Web site. Barbara has more than 20 years of business experience, most recently as vice president of marketing and sales for a privately held firm.