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Emotional Competence

For success at the highest levels, in leadership positions, emotional competence accounts for virtually the entire advantage. –Daniel Goleman

One of my all-time favorite sitcoms, now in syndication, is The Big Bang Theory. The show, produced by CBS, debuted in 2007 and aired its last season in May 2019. The comedy’s longevity alone proves that many Americans share the same affection for the show. named it the “Longest Running Multi-Camera Sitcom”  in 2019. I am not sure why The Big Bang Theory resonated with so many; however, I still enjoy watching the re-runs. Accordingly, I am fascinated by the creative behavioral dynamics among the characters in this close-knit group of friends. Most importantly, the writers developed these characters in a way that was both clever and entertaining. 

The Big Bang Theory also gives us an explicit example of why emotional intelligence is more important than high IQ (intellectual quotient) to be successful as a leader. As many of you know, “Sheldon,” one of the main characters in the hit series, often boasts about his extremely high IQ. Yet, the character is clueless when it comes to reading social cues. Sheldon’s lack of emotional intelligence causes him to get into all kinds of awkward and comical situations. The genius of the series is that as all the characters evolve in emotional intelligence skills. Even Sheldon learns how to sharpen his emotional intelligence, finds love, and realizes his dream of winning a Nobel Prize. 

IQ versus EQ

In an article written for,  Alana Biggers, MD, MPH, and Joy Stanborough provide a good snapshot of the differences between IQ and EQ. They rightly define IQ (intelligence quotient) as an individual’s intellectual capabilities. Also, they suggest that the most common elements that comprise IQ include the ability to: use logic to solve problems, plan and strategize, understand abstract ideas, learn and adapt to change, grasp, and use language. They describe emotional intelligence as an individual’s EQ (emotional quotient). EQ is the capacity to read the emotions in yourself and others. High EQ, in practice, means that a person may find it easier to: empathize with other people, control impulses, withstand temptations, delay gratification, resolve conflicts, and communicate effectively.   

In his seminal work, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman states that the average IQ score  (which was only 24 in the United States in 1918) had risen since the first tests were widely available (Goleman 1998, 11). As children were tested periodically over many decades, researchers discovered that children were demonstrating a remarkable improvement in their IQ scores among developing nations throughout the world. On the other hand, while IQ scores were improving, their emotional intelligence declined (Goleman 1998, 11).  

 Biggers and Stanborough point out that there are many factors that influence IQ and EQ scores, such as economic statussocial inequalitieseducationchildhood nutritionchildhood trauma, and other environmental factors. Therefore, it is important to note that although the concepts of IQ and EQ are widely accepted, the accuracy of testing for these capabilities is still under debate. 

 Emotional Competence and Leadership

 Beyond having emotional intelligence, Goleman expands on the concept to include the idea of emotional competence. He suggests that emotional intelligence is the capacity or potential to learn the practical skills that comprise emotional intelligence. However, emotional competence demonstrates the degree of emotional intelligence that translates into on-the-job capabilities (Goleman 1998, 24). As these “capabilities” pertain to leadership, the most crucial emotional competencies include empathy and the ability to navigate employee feelings without losing their respect or trust. The ability to read and finesse the feelings of others is what Goleman describes as social skills (Goleman, 24). 

Goleman backs up his claims concerning the significance of emotional competency with compelling research studies. He collected data drawn from competence models for 181 different positions. Moreover, this data was extracted from 121 different companies and organizations worldwide and included an analysis of a workforce that numbered in the millions (Goleman 1998, 30). His findings concluded that emotional competence was the distinguishing factor for top performance for sixty-seven percent of the group (two out of three participants) (Goleman 1998, 31).  

Goleman also contends that emotional competence, or the lack thereof,  is the best predictor of exceptional versus poor leadership performance. His research is especially revealing when it comes to measuring emotional competence and top executive level performance. He writes, “At top executive levels, everyone needs cognitive skills, to a certain extent, but being better at them does not make a star. Rather, emotional competence made a crucial difference between mediocre leaders and the best” (Goleman, 33). 


As organizations attempt to replace employees due to pandemic lockdowns and “the great resignation,” it would be prudent for leaders to revisit Goleman’s research. According to an article written by the New York Times, having Covid-19 puts individuals at higher risk of developing mental health problems. The New York Times reports, “People who had Covid were 39 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression and 35 percent more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety over the months following infection than people without Covid during the same period. Also, Covid patients were 38 percent more likely to be diagnosed with stress adjustment disorders and 41 percent more likely to be diagnosed with sleep disorders than uninfected people.” 

 This research helps employers understand the potential impact of Covid on their workforce. It is also an opportunity for employers to be proactive by offering additional mental health resources for leaders and staff. Having said this, I am not advocating discriminating against leaders who may be struggling with emotional regulation due to the pandemic. On the contrary, I am saying that companies would be remiss to ignore the mental impact of this disease. Now more than ever, leaders must be vigilant about creating work environments that are conducive to emotional health. 

 Even in the best situations, leaders should always strive to sharpen their emotional competence. Remarkably, most employee training does not include helping staff to develop emotional competence. Biggers and Stan borough claim that emotional intelligence training in the workplace can improve teamwork, conflict management abilities, job performance, and satisfaction. They also suggest that online classes and coaching can help individuals improve their problem-solving skills and recover from acute stress. Some studies confirm the benefits of sharpening emotional intelligence. 

Start your journey to improving emotional competence today! If you need coaching to improve problem-solving, social, and other soft skills, IPC can help. Our passion is to equip leaders with the tools they need to grow in their careers and lives. For more information or to set up an appointment for a free advisory call, click here.  

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