Does leadership need emotional intelligence?

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Does leadership require emotional intelligence? Does evidence of emotional intelligence encourage effective leadership? Is using emotion intelligently the same as emotional intelligence? Answers to these questions lie upon this academic journal The Leadership Quarterly, through theoretical and practitioner letters between two parties from different business schools of each university, naming University of Lausanne (Switzerland), University of Queensland (Australia), and University of Miami (USA). There are total of 4 letters that explore issues concerning emotional intelligence and leadership, starting from John's discussion and whether current research on emotional intelligence apply theoretical framework appropriately or not. Next letter is the reply from Neal and Marie discussing about John's claims that falsifying other theories and did not have enough empirical evidences to support them. The 3rd and 4th letters discuss and provide more empirical evidences that support their theory on both sides. This report summarizes their discussions, points of view and evidences.

Salovey-Mayer (1997) defines emotional intelligence (EI) as an ability of sorts that is distinct from personality. And his ability model composes of 4 branches:

  • Emotion Perception - Ability to perceive emotions
  • Emotion Facilitation - Use emotions to facilitate thinking
  • Emotion Understanding - To understand emotions
  • Emotion Management - To manage emotions in self and others
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John agrees that leadership, as science, needs EI. On the other hand, to succeed, leaders don't actually require EI. He also discusses measurement and predictive validity concerns surrounding EI and whether scientists should take or leave EI in the field of leadership advances. He answers 'yes' to the first question, because to understand which individual-differences predict leadership effectiveness we have to, of course, identify correlates of leadership and ignore individual differences that do not correlate with leadership.

There are claims that EI is considered overemphasized by management practitioners that its value in workplace settings is strong and the claim that a tie between leadership and EI exists. Even though, there are evidences supported in 2005 by 2 conference proceedings and a doctorial dissertation that show that EI is irrelevant for top leader levels of organizations. At this point, he concludes that above claims lack support because of the young state of EI research and data showing that EI matters for leadership is nonexistent because:

  • EI researchers are using the wrong measure or the wrong methodology
  • EI does not matter for leadership

And current concepts of EI assuming that they are correctly defined and measured will continue to produce the disappointing results that they have done in the past and something must change.

IQ is another approach of measuring leadership, in term of decision making and problem solving skills. IQ (general mental ability) is the single best predictor of work success that increases with job complexity. Also, the correlation between IQ and objective measures of leader performance and that of IQ and leader emergence is 0.33 and 0.5 respectively. These correlations strongly support above claim. On the contrary, meta-analysis cited by Van (2004) indicated that EI failed to predict differences in performance measures beyond what predicted by IQ and the correlation between EI measures in general and various performance measures was only 0.24. It is certain that work performance and leadership are not the same, but the ability to measure should be able to predict outcomes in a variety of performance domains as IQ does.

Saying that EI researchers are using the wrong measures and methodologies to support their theory, John concludes the 10 steps to test theoretical framework appropriately:

  • Construct Validity
  • Criterion Validity
  • Discriminant Validity
  • Convergent Validity
  • Incremental Validity
  • Avoid gathering leader self-reported measures of leadership
  • Obtain leadership measures from one source and leader individual differences from
    another to avoid problems associated with common-source/methods variance
  • User measures that were specifically designed to tap into EI
  • Use practicing leaders in real-world contexts
  • Use acceptable sample size and also control for hierarchical nestings if pertinent

He enforces the above research steps because he did not find even one study that was well designed enough nor showed that EI predicts leadership to a practically-useful extent and to ensure that researchers do not make incorrect inferences or claims that are redundant.

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The 2nd question from John is “To succeed, do leaders require EI?” He says no, leaders do not need EI to become successful, but smart ones will do. In organizational settings, leaders can easily affect the emotions of followers and upset them or make them happy by understanding simple condition-action scripts. For example, if in situation A (i.e. a follower is upset about resent failure) then do action A1 (i.e. act kindly towards the follower). Also, what makes leaders good depends on how intelligent they are.

In the next topic area, a journal by George (2000) was used to reference effective leadership. The following are 5 essential elements for leadership effectiveness:

  • Develop collective goals and objectives
  • Instill in others a sense of appreciation and importance of work
  • Generate and maintain enthusiasm, confidence, optimism, cooperation, and trust
  • Encouraging flexibility in decision making and change
  • Establish and maintain meaningful identity for the organization

General intelligence is a predictor of leadership effectiveness only when leaders are in low stress situations. EI enables leaders to deal with stressful environments, and then focus their attention back onto the task at hand. Therefore, leaders with high EI tend to be more success in handling his/her followers' emotions. High emotionally intelligent individuals may have had the following characteristics:

  • Had more awareness of their emotional states
  • Better understanding of why they were experiencing those emotions
  • Able to manage them better than those low on EI
  • Conserve their scarce cognitive resources (not become distracted by intense emotions)

In conclusion, it is not arguable and widely accepted that leadership is an emotion-laden process and a leader who can manage his/her own emotions and have empathy for others will be more effective in the workplace. This is because leadership can be effective when enhanced by, but does not require, EI. For example, being overly sensitive to others is not an effective leadership personality. Those who are agreeable will likely to become ineffective leader, because they will not be assertive enough on arguable issues and will often be bogged down by emotional states of others. Therefore, EI seems more like a curse than a blessing.

“Theoretically, the more sensitive to the emotional states of others leaders are the more difficult it may become for those leaders to ignore those states and act in a way that is needed to reify the organizational vision.” - John (2009)