Emotional intelligence: New success paradigm

high EQ
Firms which recruit employees with high EQ stand to reap big. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Suppose you were to enter a classroom full of KCSE candidates to predict which of the students will be successful in career and life. What criteria would you use?

Most people would go for academic ranking and select the highest scorers as the future stars. Previously in this forum, we defined Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a general mental capability that among other things involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and from experience. Choosing IQ as a predictor would suggest that people with high IQ succeed in life whilst people with low IQ fail. Clearly, IQ determines how far one will go in school and the kind of training one can cope with.

However, anecdotal evidence indicates that high intelligence does not obviously lead to overall success. Most grown-ups know someone who passed all the examinations with flying colours, went to the top universities and acquired many degrees. They even got the most coveted job but in the end either messed up or cannot account for either IQ or great learning.

They will also know a person who did poorly at school and is now very successful in business, occupation and family. What is it that best determines success?

This question preoccupied many researchers in the 1980s and 90s. Finally three groups of scholars working separately came up with the phenomenon that is now called emotional intelligence, abbreviated as EQ or EI. Mayer and Salovey who were pioneer researchers defined it as: "the ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour."


Daniel Goleman who popularized EQ described it as a person's ability to manage his feelings so that those feelings are expressed appropriately and effectively. He also referred to the ability to understand and manage the emotions of others. Both, as well as the third one, Dr Reuven BaRon, developed psychometric tools that measure EQ.

We shall now look at a few characteristics of emotional intelligence:

· Good Predictor: Emotional intelligence is a good predictor of success in career and life.

· Discernible: Research carried out in Stanford University demonstrated that EQ is discernible early in life. Kindergarten children were given the option of a snack immediately or the promise to receive two of the same if they chose to wait. Years later, it was discovered that those who had waited for a few hours and got more were able to have better life outcomes than those who had not.

· Trainable: There is good news about emotional intelligence - it can be developed. This is compared to IQ which has very little scope for improvement. It is good news that the qualities that determine success can be learnt by any person at any age. Individuals can invest in their own EQ development. On a wider scale, parents, employers and the educational system can invest in the success of its people and subsequently a whole nation, and enjoy a good return on investment.

· Reliable: EQ is a better indicator of success in the workplace and is used to identify people who can work well with others as leaders or followers. An employer who seeks a person who will learn complex tasks fast will go for IQ. However an employer who goes for a high EQ success-destined employee will reap big from that engagement.

To illustrate how EQ assessments work, consider the emotional intelligence test developed by Daniel Goleman, the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory. The higher the score, the higher the emotional intelligence. The test assesses five factors: Self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy and motivation.

Beyond focus on individual training, it is possible to develop emotionally intelligent homes, workplaces and communities. As a country we are faced with worrying trends. These include conflict, depression, suicide, violence and homicide. If as a country we invested in the emotional development of our people, we might be able to address many situations that arise from low emotional awareness and management as well as understanding of others and managing relationships.

The writer is a Psychologist, Coach and Organisational Consultant.