Why Aren’t We Emotionally Intelligent Yet?!

Business, L&D, Leadership, Management, Uncategorized, workplace


Those people who are self-aware and sensitive to others manage their affairs with wisdom and grace, even in adverse circumstances.

(Matthews, Zeidner & Roberts, 2004: 03).


Later this year I’m presenting a talk around Emotional Intelligence (is it a pipedream or a prerequisite) at a conference. A very hot topic that featured prominently at this years’ #cipdnap16 too; and yet this isn’t a new theory. Why aren’t we there yet? Surely we all want “wisdom and grace”?

So what is stopping us from becoming Emotionally Intelligent? First of all, are we all talking about the same thing?:

[W]ritings on EI are a confusing mixture of unsubstantiated opinion and hyperbolic claims, together with serious, but still preliminary, research grounded in psychological theory and careful test development.

(Matthews, Zeidner & Roberts, 2004: 21).

EI is much written about in books and articles and has almost come to take on a mythological status as the Holy Grail of leadership aspiration and in the pursuit of self-reflection and awareness. I’m sure some people view EI as quite nebulous in nature, and maybe a bit abstract or conceptual…

However, I don’t find the aspirational nature of EI to be overly problematic, perhaps  that’s because I significantly prefer the abstract, and conceptual to the realistic and practical. Of course, it’s always preferable to be able to share a language and context with our teams (so pick a model/ Profile and go with it) – but as a concept in general I think it is both worthy of effort and a laudable endeavour. Whether you prefer your EI theory to be more based in philosophy, neuroscience, sociology or cognitive psychology is somewhat by the by. Surely we can all agree that anything that will help us to be more self-aware, that can help encourage empathy and emotional control can only be a positive? It doesn’t take a genius to see a correlation between boosting these areas and creating a culture of trust, respect and therefore of high-performance. Here are some great tips on boosting your EI.

Is Emotional Intelligence relevant to all industries and cultures? Tough question. My issue with EI theory is the same issue I have with the concept of “authenticity” in the workplace – in so much as, there’s not just one type of EI, and there isn’t just one version of yourself. We must all balance being our true selves and also our professional selves at work, and we must also workout our own brand of Emotional Intelligence and what that looks like and what behaviours we’re trying to elicit and reward as leaders. There is a great article here on the “Authenticity Paradox”.

The very core of Emotional Intelligence is understanding yourself, being self-reflexive, empathising and creating valuable and meaningful relationships with our co-workers. Particularly for leaders, we need to be able to emotionally engage with our staff, to understand how to motivate them, how to support them and to know what they need from us whilst conveying respectfully and simply – what we need from them.

One area that I don’t agree with is the theory that there is a ‘Dark Side’ to EI. For me this seems a bit like saying, if you have nice things you might get robbed…dur. There will always be people who want to manipulate and misuse knowledge but we shouldn’t let that stop us from having nice things. For me this is a non-argument.

How do you boost your Emotional Intelligence? Firstly, you have to want to. Being self-aware is hard, being honest with yourself is hard, being open and potentially vulnerable is hard, challenging your heuristics and cognitive bias is hard. As D.S Blell has claimed, “the beginning of self-transformation is the acceptance of the need for change and the will to do so.” (Blell 2011: 32). You’ve got to want it, your team has to want it and your organisation has to want and encourage it. And don’t for a second think that you can create Emotional Intelligence through policy and procedure – you can’t.


Emotional Intelligence: For the Authentic and Diverse Workplace – DS Blell (2011) – Bloomington Press.

Emotional Intelligence: Science and Myth – G Matthews, M Zeidner, RD Roberts (2004) – MIT Press.

Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence – D Goleman, R Boyatzis & A McKee (2013)Harvard Business Review Press.

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success – S Stein & H Book (2006) – Jossey-Bass Press.

Working With Emotional Intelligence – D Goleman (1998) – Bloomsbury Publishing.