Do you measure EQ in your top executives?

By Pia Torreck, Equity Partner at Ingvardsen Partners, IESF Denmark
Executive Search | Board Evaluation | Business Psychology | Leadership Assessment | Executive Coaching

Psychological safety has been a hot topic for some time. EQ was the buzzword of the ’90s and now, once again, it is recognized as an essential skill for both leaders and employees.

Higher EQ Leads to Better Performance According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs 2023 report, emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the top 10 essential skills for the modern workforce. Attributes associated with emotional intelligence, such as resilience, curiosity, lifelong learning, motivation, and self-awareness, are highly valued by companies and will continue to be so in the coming years. The report highlights that companies emphasize the importance of resilient and reflective employees who embrace a culture of lifelong learning as the lifespan of their skills diminishes.

A 2019 study by Lee Hecht Harrison Penna found that 57% of 500 surveyed leaders view EQ as a common trait among high-performing employees, and 75% use EQ as a criterion for promotions and salary increases. Despite this recognition, many organizations lack the tools to identify and develop EQ. But what makes EQ so crucial for leadership, and how can top executives develop this indispensable skill?

What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions, as well as to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. This ability is central to theories of personal and social competence and has significant implications for relationships, workplaces, and leadership. Popularized by Dr. Daniel Goleman in the 1990s, EQ comprises five key areas:

  1. Self-Awareness – The ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and their effect.
  2. Self-Regulation – The ability to control or redirect disruptive emotions and impulses and adapt to changes.
  3. Social Awareness – The ability to understand the emotions of others and the dynamics in social interactions.
  4. Relationship Management – The ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict effectively.
  5. Motivation – The ability to focus energy on achieving goals despite lesser rewards.


Richard Boyatzis, who has collaborated with Goleman on research and theory development in leadership and emotional intelligence, has further focused on how emotional, social, and cognitive intelligence interact to promote effectiveness in leadership and work environments. More on this in another article.

The Importance of EQ in Leadership
Leaders with high EQ are not only technically skilled but also mature, empathetic, and trustworthy. They listen to their teams before making decisions and are attuned to their teams’ emotional states. A lack of EQ in leaders can lead to low morale, disengagement, and ineffective teams. Without empathy, self-awareness, and trust, employees may become detached from their workplace and customers. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to develop leaders with high EQ.

Psychological Safety and EQ
Psychological safety and emotional intelligence (EQ) are both important concepts in understanding interpersonal dynamics and the work environment, but they refer to different aspects of human interaction and self-awareness.

Psychological safety refers to a sense of trust among team or organizational members, where individuals feel safe to express themselves, share ideas, ask questions, and admit mistakes without fear of judgment or punishment. This concept is particularly relevant in teams and organizations as it promotes open communication, innovation, and collaboration. The primary focus is on the environment and culture of the team or organization.

Emotional intelligence (EQ), on the other hand, is an individual’s ability to recognize, understand, and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others. This includes abilities such as self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship skills. EQ is more focused on the individual’s abilities and how these skills impact personal and professional relationships.

While psychological safety is about the social environment and culture within a group or organization, EQ focuses on the individual’s abilities to handle emotions and interact socially in an effective manner. Both play important roles in creating effective and healthy work relationships but address different levels of human interaction.

Developing Emotional Intelligence
To develop EQ, leaders can focus on the following areas:

  1. Lifelong Learning: Top executives should continuously expand their skills and knowledge through formal education, mentoring, or self-directed learning. This approach ensures that leaders remain adaptable and innovative.
  2. Resilience: Leaders must foster a mindset that embraces change and learns from mistakes. Resilience is crucial in today’s business environment.
  3. Self-Awareness: Leaders can develop self-awareness by practicing mindfulness, seeking feedback, and reflecting on their experiences. High self-awareness leads to better self-regulation and more effective leadership.
  4. Empathy: Empathy is critical for building trust and rapport within teams and across organizational boundaries. Leaders can improve their empathy by actively listening and showing genuine concern for their team members.
  5. Team Skills: Effective teamwork requires strong social skills, including communication and conflict resolution. Leaders should focus on building rapport and creating an inclusive environment.

A Dive into “Self-Awareness”

The article “What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)” by Tasha Eurich from 2018 describes what genuine self-awareness entails and how to develop this trait. Eurich highlights that while many people believe they are self-aware, true self-awareness is a rare quality.

Self-awareness has become a popular concept in leadership, and for good reason. Research shows that when we see ourselves clearly, we become more confident and creative. We make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. Self-aware individuals are less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. They are better employees who get more promotions, and they are more effective leaders with more satisfied employees and more profitable companies.

Eurich also discusses that self-awareness is not just about introspection. There are two types of self-awareness: internal self-awareness, which involves being clear about one’s own values, passions, and ambitions, and external self-awareness, which involves understanding how others see us. Both types are essential for achieving true self-awareness and can lead to personal and professional success.

Implementing EQ in Leadership Practices
Although many organizations recognize the value of EQ, research shows that only 42% offer specific training to develop this skill. Organizations can take several steps to improve their leadership culture:

  1. Assess and Measure Existing EQ: Use assessment tools to measure EQ levels in the workforce. This can identify areas of low empathy or other EQ qualities that can be improved through targeted training.
  2. Integrate EQ into Leadership Practices: Promote a coaching culture where reflection, listening, and collaboration are prioritized.
  3. Create Time for Reflection: Build breaks into the workflow where team members can discuss successes and challenges. This builds EQ and prevents the buildup of frustrations.
  4. Build a Pipeline: Recruit new leaders with high EQ and integrate EQ identifiers into recruitment tools.


Personality tests based on the Five Factor Model (FFM) such as Hogan Assessment & Deeper Signals can help examine and assess a person’s Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Research has identified that the personality traits that tend to predict higher levels of EQ are traits related to being Curious, Considerate, and Emotionally Stable. People who are curious and considerate in their interactions with others tend to be more open to their own and others’ emotions, more empathetic, and better at understanding complex emotional states, thus creating a more positive emotional environment. Emotionally stable individuals have stronger emotional regulation and can maintain a stable mood despite challenges and opposition, keeping focus without being hijacked by their own emotions and feelings.

What Kind of Leadership Context?
Some leaders think less about the bigger picture, cohesion, and long-term results. These leaders are less likely to demand more EQ from their leaders. Leaders who are more strategic and focus on long-term results for the company are more likely to be concerned with the type of leadership that actually supports the company’s long-term value creation.

Torbert’s theory of leadership levels, also known as “Action Logics,” describes seven different stages that leaders can develop through. These levels represent different ways of seeing the world and responding to challenges and opportunities. Here is a brief description of each level:

  1. Opportunist: Acts out of self-interest and is often manipulative. Focuses on winning and avoiding punishment.
  2. Diplomat: Seeks to conform and avoid conflict. Emphasizes being accepted by the group.
  3. Expert: Values knowledge and expertise. Believes in rational solutions and perfect answers.
  4. Achiever: Results-oriented and goal-driven. Focuses on efficiency and success in the organization.
  5. Individualist: Begins to understand the complexity of the world and values individual differences. Sees opportunities beyond the organization’s norms.
  6. Strategist: Thinks systemically and strategically. Capable of navigating complexity and integrating short-term and long-term goals.
  7. Alchemist: Can lead transformation at a deep level. Connects material, social, and spiritual dimensions.


Torbert’s theory highlights that leaders can develop through these levels, leading to greater effectiveness and capacity to lead complex organizations and change processes.

Conclusion and Perspective
Emotional intelligence is a crucial component of effective leadership if the context allows for EQ. Leaders with strong EQ create an environment of trust and confidence that fosters strong teamwork and high performance. By prioritizing the development of EQ, companies can ensure their leaders are well-equipped to handle future challenges and opportunities, driving long-term business results.

At Executive Search, we assess both IQ and EQ in candidates, but also evaluate the context in which the executive will operate.

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