Why EQ can count for more than IQ

Developing your Emotional Intelligence is key to leading happy and successful creative teams, says Tanya Livesey, Leadership Coach and Global Head of Creative Talent at The Talent Business

When dealing with people, remember that you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.

Dale Carnegie

If there’s one thing we can learn from recent global political events, it’s that emotions matter when it comes to leading people. As much in business as in politics, the so-called ‘soft-skills’ of leadership, can play a disproportionate role in driving success.

Against a backdrop of globalisation and rapid technological change, the need for emotionally intelligent leadership is more critical than ever in the fluid nature of modern creative organisations. Where skillsets are increasingly diverse, people more mobile, and collaborative teamworking the norm, the key skill of leadership is the ability to influence groups of people, often across multiple disciplines, cultures and geographic locations. To unite such disparate teams behind a common vision requires leaders to have the interpersonal skills to engage their people, not just rationally but emotionally. This is especially true for creative leaders, whose ability to harness the emotional energies of their team is essential to the creative process.

Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.

– Sheryl Sandberg

Despite the above, it is common industry practice to promote brilliant creative practitioners into the top roles with little support to help them develop the very different set of skills that leadership requires. Unfortunately, a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ) in a creative leader can have more negative consequences for a business than a simple lack of practical business skills.

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.

 – Pearl S Buck

Because of the way emotions are transmitted across people, the dominant emotions of senior management are what drive organisational culture. In addition, studies have shown that creative people have a tendency to be more emotionally sensitive. As such, a creative leader who lacks the emotional self-control of well-developed EQ, is likely to have a pronounced emotional impact on the wider business. Crucially, when the creative people around them are also more sensitive themselves, that impact can be significantly exaggerated, creating an emotional, and sometimes toxic, ripple effect across the whole organisation. As such, the need for strong EQ at the top is both clear and essential.

Study after study evidences a stronger link between EQ in leaders and their business success than IQ. So being smart or creatively talented is simply not enough when leading a team

How to spot when your EQ needs work

Your EQ is your ability to use emotional information, from yourself and others, to better inform how you behave. Being self-aware and able to empathise are two core skills that enable you to do this. In practice, those with a high EQ manage themselves appropriately and are highly in-tune with those around them. Consequently, they are better able to communicate and build meaningful relationships and so are powerfully able to influence and inspire.

Although EQ is still a relatively new concept in the business arena, study after study evidences a stronger link between EQ in leaders and their business success than IQ. So being smart or creatively talented is simply not enough when it comes to leading a team.

The good news is that with time and practice, EQ (unlike IQ), can be developed and learned.  Ironically, the more in need of an EQ boost you are, the less likely you’ll be aware you need it, so the following are clues to help you spot when yours needs work:

  • You get frustrated that no-one else gets it, when you can see something clearly.
  • You form strong opinions quickly and find it difficult to accommodate other perspectives.
  • You’re surprised when people react negatively to something you’ve said or done.
  • You find yourself getting wound up easily by other people.
  • You regularly suffer from stress or anxiety.

There are lots of ways in which a lack of EQ can manifest itself and it can have a highly negative effect on your team. If you recognise any of the above in yourself, the following strategies can help:

1.  Know thyself

The most fundamental skill of EQ is self-awareness but even the most observant of leaders have their blind spots. Called ‘CEO’s Disease’, those in charge find feedback rare or airbrushed for palatability when it’s given, so their view of themselves is often at odds with reality.

Tackle this by inviting and giving constructive feedback regularly. Once your team see that it’s a two-way street and you actively work to resolve any issues, they will start to be more forthcoming. No matter how tough the feedback is, be grateful that someone’s been brave enough to let you know. Because what you don’t know, can most definitely hurt you.

2. Get in touch with your feelings

Being able to manage your emotions makes you more resilient to life’s ups and downs but to do this you need to accurately identify them in yourself. There are just eight basic emotions (trust, anger, anticipation, disgust, joy, fear, sadness and surprise) but hundreds of feelings that are made up of a blend of these (like mixing paint colours). The better you get at recognising the exact hue of your feelings, the better you’ll get at managing them.

Next time that you’re feeling ‘stressed’, work out precisely what you’re feeling: is it anger, anxiety, frustration or maybe confusion? Once you know what it is, you’ll be better equipped to figure out what’s caused it and therefore how to manage it and move on.

Becoming alert to the impact you have on others is one of the greatest responsibilities you have. After all, the meaning of your communication is its effect

3. Understand the impact of your words and deeds

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you ‘didn’t mean it like that’, it matters what the recipient thinks you meant. If what you say or do is misconstrued, then it’s up to you to address it.

Before going into meetings or having difficult conversations, take a moment to consider precisely what you want your audience to think and feel and the best way to convey that. When a conversation goes awry, reflect on what you said or did that might have influenced how it went.

Becoming alert to the impact you have on others is one of the greatest responsibilities you have. After all, the meaning of your communication is its effect.

4. Own your emotions

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master.

– Epictetus

Emotions come from within, so it’s your choice how you respond in any situation. No one can make you angry or anxious because they don’t control your emotions, you do. Taking responsibility for your emotions doesn’t mean never showing your feelings, nor does it mean you’re always the life and soul. It means working out why you react the way you do in certain situations and learning to sidestep unhelpful triggers, before your emotions get the better of you. After all, if you’re not in control of your emotions, they will most certainly be in control you.

5. Show you care

Engage your team by being interested in them as people and make them feel that what they do matters. Studies show that 7/10 people are more motivated by recognition than money, so taking the time to talk to them, to praise their work and to really listen to their ideas, pays dividends in engagement and loyalty. As the saying goes, ‘people leave managers, not companies’ and usually for emotional, not financial, reasons.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for developing EQ. However, by practicing strategies, like the above, you can start to harness your own and others’ emotions to powerful effect. And it’s worth the effort, as learning to navigate the emotional landscape of being in charge may not only boost the cultural health and success of your business, but mastering your emotions means you can be master of your own destiny too.

The little emotions are the great captains of our lives – we obey them without realising it.

– Vincent van Gogh


Tanya Livesey is a Leadership Coach to leaders of high profile creative businesses and Global Head of Creative Talent for The Talent Business, the world leader in executive search for creative businesses, advising some of the industry’s most celebrated CCOs and ECDs on their career strategy

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  • Bruce Kestelman 09/03/2017 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks Tanya. A helpful summary of EI and it’s relationship to this work and leadership. I believe that EI is a helpful construct and something that differentiates performance. However, I’m starting to see some push back of late related to the true impact of EQ. I’m trying to be better positioned to respond to that push back. I ‘m wondering what studies you are referencing when you make the statement, “. . . study after study evidences a stronger link between EQ in leaders and their business success than IQ. ” And what level of success is indicated? Many thanks. Bruce

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