What is better than intelligence for job performance?

I know several CEOs who want to always hire the smartest person they could find for leadership roles. Unfortunately, they were making costly mistakes.

High intelligence is only one of several factors for recruiters and hiring managers to consider when choosing among candidates and for executives and talent leaders to consider when deciding whom to promote into executive, first level leadership, and customer-facing roles.

What is better? Emotional intelligence is one of the most important predictors of job success.

In 1990, Peter Salovey and John Mayer proposed a new intelligence, emotional intelligence, which is “The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”[i] Emotional intelligence is defined as having three main branches:

  1. Appraisal and expression of emotion
  2. Regulation of expression
  3. Utilization of emotion

Peter Salovey and John Mayer explain that there is nothing wrong with having negative emotions; after all, it is part of being human. What is critically important, however, is the component of personal growth and using all emotions intelligently.

Our understanding of emotional intelligence leaped forward with the publishing of Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. After an exhaustive survey of the empirical research and packing the book with case histories, Goleman asserted that the higher a person’s position, the more emotional intelligence mattered. It is what distinguishes star performers from the average performer and is critical for successful leadership. He also asserted that it can be learned.

Goleman in his book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence,” defined The Emotional Competence Framework.[ii] Goleman’s framework identifies three personal competencies that determine how we manage our ourselves. They are self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation. Goleman’s framework identifies two social competencies that determine how we handle relationships. They are empathy and social skills. He defines social skills in the work setting as an adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others.

Other researchers have found that emotional intelligence has predictive validity for leadership roles and professions that involve negotiation, building trust, and working with stress.[iii] One study conducted by Ruth Jacobs and Wei Chen even found that people with the highest emotional intelligence were more likely to succeed in a position than those who were strongest in IQ or relevant previous experience.[iv]

Ruth Jacobs and Wei Chen spoke to hundreds of top executives at fifteen global companies including IBM, PepsiCo, and Volvo. They found that statistically the difference between those regarded as star performers (top 5%) and average performers was primarily attributable to higher ratings attained by the stars on these soft skill parameters. In fact for senior leadership positions, 90% of the difference between the stars and average leaders was attributable to difference in ratings on emotional competencies such as influence, team leadership, political awareness, self confidence, and achievement drives. Jacobs and Chen found that only 10% was due to any cognitive or technical skills (mainly strategic thinking). Job retention is also linked to emotional intelligence.

To be sure, leaders have to have the technical competence to earn the respect of their organizations, and they need to know how the latest emerging technologies, social trends and laws will impact their organization. They will need to be able to articulate a vision and draw people to it, deploy strategies and operating mechanisms. They will need to be smart, driven, have sound values—and intelligence. But without emotional intelligence they often turn out to be uninspiring leaders, are unable to listen openly, be a catalyst for change, leverage diversity, motivate employees, recognize their limitations, develop others, and resolve conflicts.

Are you using structured interviews or assessments to measure emotional intelligence? Is it a competence you require for your leaders?

Contact me to learn more about emotional intelligence and watch for my new book, Hack Recruiting, to be released soon.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults and provides hands-on support to improve recruiting and retention, cultures of innovation, and develop agile leaders and teams. You can overcome your obstacles with these issues by subscribing to his weekly blogs. Go to http://www.victorhrconsultant.com. to subscribe.


[i] Peter Salovey and John Mayer, Emotional Intelligence (1990); http://www.unh.edu/emotional_intelligence/EIAssets/EmotionalIntelligenceProper/EI1990%20Emotional%20Intelligence.pdf.

[ii] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, (Revised Oct. 2006), Bantam Books, New York, pages 26 and 27.

[iii] Ernest H. O’Boyle Jr. et al., “The Relation between Emotional Intelligence and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis,” The Journal of Organizational Behavior 32 (2011): 788–818.

[iv] The Ruth Jacobs and Wei Chen study is cited in Daniel Goleman, (1998) Working with Emotional Intelligence, page 319, (New York: Bantam Dell, division of Random House, Inc. New York, 1998).; Reissued in October, 2006..

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