The benefits of high emotional intelligence

When I was growing up I was lauded for being ‘smart’ because I excelled at maths, played a mean game of chess, and partook fully in the political debates that our family used to enjoy over Sunday lunch and at other family occasions. My cognitive intelligence was high. Since then I’ve come to believe that raw cognitive intelligence is great, but pretty useless unless combined with emotional intelligence (EI). Cognitive intelligence and EI contribute equally to a person’s general intelligence and it is only general intelligence that offers an indication of a person’s potential to succeed in life.

Wikipedia has these two definitions of emotional intelligence:

  • The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth. – Salovey and Mayer
  • Emotional intelligence is concerned with effectively understanding oneself and others, relating well to people, and adapting to and coping with the immediate surroundings to be more successful in dealing with environmental demands.

Emotional intelligence is challenged as a theoretical construct because it is hard to measure, but from a practical perspective it is easy to recognise in people and I think very useful.

I’m writing this today because Bill Gross tweeted an article titled Apply EI to the stages of innovation. This is the first mention of EI I’ve seen for some time. The central point of the article is that people with higher emotional intelligence will generally be better innovators. There are two reasons for this – one they are more self aware and better able to ‘let go’ of problems and get the unconscious mind working on solutions (e.g. by going for a long walk), and two they are more likely to form high EI teams with an atmosphere of trust where people are willing to make themselves vulnerable by coming up with creative ideas.

The area I think about the most that benefits from emotional intelligence is leadership. Looking back to the definitions above it is pretty easy to see how high EI managers will be better at leading and motivating their teams.