Aquila Capital Partners

Austin &
New York City

For Once It’s Not About IQ, It’s About EQ and Creativity

What makes a good leader? It’s a question many have tried to answer for years. There are books, business school classes, conferences, podcasts, and even a few movies on the subject. 

A few things are clear: in order to lead a company well, having a clear vision for the future of not only the company, but your market as a whole, as well as being competent in the tenets of your role, are likely qualities for success. Many tout the relevance of IQ as a barometer for good leadership, but according to research, EQ is just as important.

While there are many leadership traits that matter, and I can’t try and address them all here, EQ is really important, which we will discuss below. Here’s why it might matter more than IQ as a measurement of good leadership. 

IQ vs. EQ: What’s the Difference? 

There are an incredible amount of studies that discuss the differences between IQ and EQ and offer opinions about which is more important for leadership. So what exactly is the difference between the two?

IQ measures a person’s academic competency and reasoning ability. People with a high IQ score usually demonstrate strength in learning and processing information. They often have a strong penchant for logical reasoning and may have a more data-focused and rational personality type. However, as great as these qualities sound on paper, we can all probably think of a highly qualified, professional, and intelligent individual who simply does not thrive in leading teams and organizations. This doesn’t mean that intellect and intelligence don’t matter. It simply means that IQ cannot be the only barometer of measurement for what makes a good leader. 

One integral and oft-ignored part of intelligence that makes a difference in the workplace is EQ. EQ, or emotional intelligence, is defined as the ability to perceive, understand, handle, and manage emotions. You might be thinking, why does this matter? Is work really a place where emotions make a difference? And while it might not seem like it at first, at the end of the day, anyone who runs a company has to deal with people (and all of their complexities) on a daily basis. Some form of emotional intelligence is necessary to manage a team well. 

Some studies indicate that EQ is important not only in our interpersonal relationships but also in determining how successful you will be in the workplace. The Center for Creative Leadership studied scenarios in which company leaders were derailed, and, each time, they found a level of emotional competence was missing from their leadership style. Their studies included more than 80 Fortune 100 companies. Common issues with leaders who demonstrated lessened emotional intelligence were: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

How CEOs Are Evolving—And What Needs to Change

It’s no secret that the last three years have challenged leadership teams across the globe and potentially put CEOs and executives through unprecedented amounts of stress. One might think that an intelligent, educated company leader would fare better through such challenging times, but this is not necessarily the case. 

A study by an international search firm, Egon Zehnder International, looked at nearly 1,000 CEOs and found that the most successful CEOs are more likely to be relational and adaptive. This makes perfect sense in light of the pandemic and its aftermath. This study showed that self-reflection and personal development had jumped to become top priorities for CEOs in recent years. It makes perfect sense—you can’t get your Doctorate in “How to Navigate a Pandemic”. These challenges come through experience and are better navigated with an understanding of the unique challenges each member of your team faces. Those who can lead through challenging times show a level of emotional intelligence that inspires their teams to adhere to the company’s vision and press through difficulty. 

Egon Zehnder International’s findings show strong support for the importance of EQ. Their analysis showed that nearly half of all respondents see relational capabilities as a key blind spot for CEOs moving into the future. What is even more alarming than this statistic is that only 44% of them reported that they “feel fully aligned with their teams, and even fewer with their boards—pointing to heightened levels of tension and increased need for collaboration.” 

Furthermore, multiple studies indicate that the correlation between high IQ and leadership roles was not as strong—in fact, it was significantly less. People who boasted a high IQ alongside a high EQ did not exhibit a stronger likelihood of holding a leadership role than those with a high EQ without a high IQ. So what can we learn from this? 

Honing your emotional intelligence will help you more effectively lead your teams and lead you down a path toward success. Even if it seems unexpected, bringing out the emotional side—the side that intuits, connects, and feels—is important in business. Try as we might, we cannot escape our emotions (trust me, I’ve tried). They are always a part of us and, to some degree, are involved in our day-to-day interactions—at the workplace and in our interpersonal relationships. 

So what makes a leader? Not only must a leader demonstrate experience, competence in their field, and a distinct vision for their company’s future: but they must also demonstrate the ability to emote with and relate to their team. Listening to your staff’s concerns helps business leaders effectively lead their teams with a holistic perspective on how their company is doing internally. This is why good leaders must prioritize EQ in addition to IQ to lead a successful team.