In our work with coaching and consulting clients, we found ourselves discussing Emotional Intelligence (EI) almost daily, and these conversations left us wanting data-based answers to the question of how leaders perceive the importance of EI. After reviewing existing studies, many of which established a strong link between performance and EI, we conducted original research with 265 leaders. We analyzed their views of leadership and EI by job level in organization, years of leadership experience, gender, and personality type, as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) ®. This study is unique in describing how leaders define, value, and develop their Emotional Intelligence — in their own words.

What elements of leadership do executives, managers, and consultants consider most important to success?

When leaders hear “Emotional Intelligence,” what do they think it means?

Do leaders believe Emotional Intelligence can be developed? If so, how?

How emotionally intelligent do they think they already are?

How do perspectives on leadership and Emotional Intelligence vary by job level, experience, personality type, and gender?

265 leaders participated by invitation in this extensive online survey. One-third are executives, another third directors or managers, and the rest are primarily business owners and consultants. Descriptive statistics were developed for the entire data set. Narrative responses were coded by independent raters and analyzed for statistical significance.

Excerpts of Findings

Release 1: What Makes a Successful Leader?
This report covers findings on which capacities — related and not related to Emotional Intelligence — participants associate with successful leadership.

  • Vision topped the list of critical leadership capacities for nearly all leaders. Two other “applied EI” capacities — Relationship Building and People Development — were ranked in the top 5, along with Strategic Thinking and Execution.
  • Of the remaining 15 capacities studied, all the EI items — including Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Adaptability — were rated as more important than the traditional leadership capacities, such as External/Market Orientation, Financial Acumen, and Planning.
  • However, leaders of different personality type, job level, and experience rated many capacities quite differently. For example, Executives were more than twice as likely to value Optimism as were Managers/Directors or Consultants. Regardless of job level, participants of different personality type showed substantial variation in what they consider important to successful leadership.

Release 2: Leaders Speak Out on Emotional Intelligence
This report describes how leaders define and develop EI.

  • Most leaders believe Emotional Intelligence is about building relationships and using emotions wisely, reading people, and being aware of their own emotions. These responses are consistent across levels, experience, and personality.
  • Nearly all leaders believe EI can be developed and are able to offer recommendations developing EI. These recommendations vary substantially by years of leadership experience. For example, the more experienced the leader, the more likely to recommend training, coaching, feedback, and self-directed development.
  • When leaders describe how they develop their own EI, years of experience is far less significant in differentiating their responses. Instead, leaders of different personality types (MBTI) develop their own EI very differently. For example, people with Feeling Perceiving preferences (FP’s) are nearly three times more likely than people with Thinking Perceiving preferences (TP’s) to cite training/group experiences as important in developing their EI.
  • Surprisingly, gender matters not at all in any of our findings. Men and women provided similar answers in describing EI, how it can be developed, how they develop their own EI, and how they rate their own EI.

Release 3, expected fall 2004, will address how these leaders rate various aspects of their own Emotional Intelligence.

Excerpts of Implications
  • Leaders at all levels are open to developing Emotional Intelligence, but they talk about it quite differently than do many consultants and EI theorists. Leadership coaches, HR professionals, and others who help people develop their EI should adjust their language and initial focus to reflect aspects of EI that resonate most with executives and managers – relationships, reading people, self-awareness, rather than empathy, self-confidence, and self-control.
  • “Soft skills” development programs would benefit from a richer view of what leaders actually value. In particular, leaders are deeply interested in resources that help them extract the learning from their own experiences.
  • Multiple types of EI development programs are needed to advance leaders of different personality types. MBTI is a significant predictor of the how leaders describe developing their own EI. For example, group learning is indispensable to some types and anathema to others.
  • To excel at the highly-ranked Relationship Management capacities, leaders should develop their EI “building block” capabilities of self-awareness, reading others, and adaptability. This study shows that leaders may underestimate the importance of these basics in performing the complex capabilities they highly value.
  • When assessing development needs or engaging in succession planning, leaders should be aware of blind spots or stereotypes they may hold. To the extent that executives view their own strength profiles as especially desirable, they may overlook leaders with different and perhaps complementary strengths. Also, look beyond common MBTI stereotypes. For example, J’s and P’s were indistinguishable in how they valued Execution, Achievement Drive, and Adaptability.
  • Loosen assumptions about gender differences. Men and women answer questions about EI with astonishing similarity.