Rahmin is a well-liked, calm, and engaged manager of a team. He is a good problem solver, has shown decent performance, and his reportees find it easy to work with him. Known for his positive outlook towards life, he is highly emotionally intelligent, and his ability to see the silver lining in the most difficult challenges is commendable. In many ways, Rahmin is an ideal candidate for many organizations. Thus, he was promoted to an executive position quickly. But he failed to deliver. What went wrong?

His high emotional quotient (EQ or emotional intelligence, EI) turned into a detriment. Research by Prof. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of Columbia University, and Adam Yearsely, Head of Global Talent at Red Bull, shows that despite having a positive correlation to job satisfaction, job performance, and leadership, EQ impacts a range of crucial performance parameters negatively. Here’s what they found:

  • Difficulty giving constructive feedback. High interpersonal sensitivity and empathic concern may make it hard for people like Rahmin, to deliver critical or negative feedback to others. Research shows that more than 57% employees prefer corrective feedback over positive ones. But if they have managers with high EI, they feel frustrated at not receiving it. Their managers fear disapproval, or hurting others’ feelings. End result: teams fail to see improvement areas in their performance, leaving little room for growth.
  • An aversion to risk. Most innovative ventures require a balance between risk taking and risk avoidance. People like Rahmin are much more likely to avoid bold choices, because high EQ is associated with higher levels of conscientiousness. In other words, the higher your EQ, the more likely it is that you resist your impulses and make measured decisions. EQ equates with more self-control, which keeps our risk-taking abilities in check.
  • Lower innovation capacity. There is a negative correlation between EQ and some traits that predispose individuals toward creativity: non-conformism, impulsivity, and an excitable (‘up-and-down’) personality. While it is of course possible for creative people to be emotionally intelligent, the more common pattern for people like Rahmin is to be great at following processes, building relations, and working with others. They struggle at challenging the status quo, or choosing unconventional paths to find something new.

Does this mean we should not hire people with high EQ into leadership positions? Absolutely not. Emotional intelligence continues to be one of the most sought after employability skills, as organizations make the shift towards more people-driven and purpose-driven cultures. However, EQ in reality goes beyond just sociability, and empathy. Stay tuned for our next post to learn more about the different components of emotional intelligence.

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