Friday, August 13, 2010

I Draw the Line - My Position On Emotional Intelligence

I've been asked, "Is personal strength related to EQ?" I suppose it's a fair question. Many of the areas of personal strength are topics in what is known as "emotional intelligence." But in the final analysis, the answer is "No."

Having said that, I feel I need to elaborate.

It's been more than a decade since Daniel Goleman came out with his book, Emotional Intelligence. It was an enormously popular and influential book at the time because it shined a spotlight on and aimed to increase the credibility of poorly understood aspects of professional development, such as people skills (sometimes referred to as "soft skills"), personality, attitudes, values and character.

All these things have an impact on performance. Goleman's strategy was to put them all in one basket and call it "emotional intelligence." Aside from the fact that these factors have little to do with each other, the term is a gross misnomer, because none of the factors have anything to do with emotions.

Also, to engender respect and validity for his concept, he introduced the idea of psychological measurement. He called it Emotional Quotient, or EQ, as if to give it equal standing with Intelligence Quotient (IQ) testing.

In the end, the concept of emotional intelligence has proven to be so unwieldy and confusing that it has failed to help people grow stronger in any of the areas it encompasses.

So even though Goleman's work was popular in many organizations and the term EQ is now established in HR jargon, I have always distanced myself from it. I liked the idea that someone was actively promoting these factors, but bundling all them into one concept is unnecessary, arbitrary and meaningless. Maybe this is why research has shown that EQ measurements have no correlation to leadership or workplace performance.

To be fair, I'd like to add that Goleman is a brilliant writer and has worked tirelessly in this area for all the right reasons. I just wish he had taken a different approach.

It's important for me to make this point because my work is mostly about people skills and personal strengths, and some people have confused these topics with the concept of emotional intelligence.

I'd prefer that they didn't. I think people skills, personal strength, personality assessment, values and attitudes are legitimate performance factors, and they don't need an umbrella concept like emotional intelligence to make them credible and accessible to people who want to be more successful in work and life.

So, to put a fine point on it, I intend that this little bit of clarification will be the last time I ever mention the term "emotional intelligence."

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .


Michael Clement said...

I have thoroughly read Goleman's books. I think the information has it's place. I find that your blog post has merit and lacks EI. I'm sure, for you, as you were writing, it clarified some things that you feel passionate about (even emotional!). I don't think it clarified anything for the reader. I've been following your thoughts and I think you can do better. Much respect, Micheal Clement

Julie Fleming said...

Just found this post via your Twitter link, and I find it interesting. I'm curious about the research you mention that shows that "EQ measurements have no correlation to leadership or workplace performance." I've seen significant research to the contrary, and I'd like to take a look at the work you're citing. Would you be willing to share a few references, please? Many thanks!

Denny Coates said...

The problem with EI is that it isn't any one real thing that's actually going on a person, but a bundle of poorly related concepts. As such, it's impossible to ground the EI concept in something like cognitive neuroscience - what's actually happening in the brain. This is what makes it so hard to correlate EI with something like leadership performance. See...
H.J. Eysenck, Intelligence (2000)
E.A. Locke, "Why Emotional Intelligence Is an Invalid Concept," Journal of Organizational Behavior (26), 425-31.
P.G. Mattiuzi, "Emotional Intelligence?"
F.J. Landy, "Some Historical and Scientific Issues Related to Research on Emotional Intelligence," Journal of Organizational Behavior (26) 411-24
M. Mikolaczak, et al, Psychometric Properties of the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire" 2007), Journal of Personality Assessment (88), 338-53
R.D. Roberts, et al. "Does Emotional Intelligence Meet Traditional Standards for an Intelligence?" Emotion (1) 196-231.
N. Brody, "What Cognitive Intelligence Is and Emotional Intelligence Is Not" (2004, Psychological Inquiry (15), 234-38.
J. Antonakis, "Does Leadership Need Emotional Intelligence?" (2009), The Leadership Quarterly (20), 247-61.
P.D. Harms, M. Crede "Emotional Intelligence and Transformational and Transactional Leadership - A Meta-Analysis" (2010), Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies (17), 5-17. Also, "Remaining Issues in Emotional Intelligence Research," Industrial and Organizational Psychology Perspectives on Science and Practice (3), 154-58.

Julie Fleming said...

Thank you, Denny -- I'll look forward to reading some of those. I agree that EI includes some loosely related skills, which makes it difficult to apply it as a discipline in the way that Goleman and others seem to discuss. And yet, I've seen more than a handful of leaders (and others) who are derailed by a lack of the skills/attitudes/approaches that are usually included in the EI umbrella. Interesting discussion, and I appreciate your taking the time to list the references.

Karine Aubry said...

Hello Denny and everyone
I'm a french business coach working on management and leadership issues. I'm using Goleman's work as others' work, and i must say i do have the same feeling as yours Denny about "IE".
That is, when talking about this whole range of soft skills, i really don't feel comfortable with having them in the same "EI" basket. Some are emotional skills, some are not.
Of course emotions are within many (all?) of our behaviours, maybe that's the idea behind EI concept ?
I'd like to read more about "EQ measurements and leaderhip" since, as Julie, i've read studies that say there's a deep link between the two.

and all the best

Bui Petersen said...

I agree with your skepticism but probably not to the same degree. In my own work I limit the definiton of EI strictly as "the ability to identify and work with emotion in ourselves and others". I don't think Goleman should have a monopoly on the definition.