Current State

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s emotions and the emotions of others. 

Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who helped popularize EI, identifies its five elements: self-awareness (including awareness of one’s biases), self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. The more leaders can manage each of these areas, the higher their emotional intelligence. 

While there is widespread consensus on the scientific validity of EI and general consensus it can be learned and strengthened, some researchers still argue it is an inborn characteristic. Brandon Hall Group research shows a split among employers on the importance of EI in leadership compared to management competencies.

Which is More Important for a Leader to Possess? 


It’s a scientific fact that emotions precede thought. When emotions run high, they change the way our brains function, diminishing cognitive abilities, decision-making powers and even interpersonal skills. Understanding and managing our emotions (and the emotions of others) helps us be more successful in our personal and professional lives. 

Goleman’s research shows that when comparing top performers with average performers, 90% of the difference is attributable to emotional intelligence. So, while leaders must have management and business competencies, they must be built on a foundation of emotional intelligence. 

Most organizations do think development of emotional intelligence is important going forward — it ranks as the most important leader behavior needing development over the next one to two years, according to Brandon Hall Group research. But there is a disconnect between that and the investment employers plan to make: EI ranks 17th among 20 leadership-development priorities in our HCM Outlook 2021 Study

There is evidence that reluctance to invest in EI is borne more of ignorance than outright opposition. About 67% of organizations not training on EI said they are not familiar enough with it or don’t know how to measure it. At the same time, recognizing unconscious bias, which is part of emotional intelligence, ranks as the number-one leadership development investment priority. 


More than 40% of organizations do not believe their current leaders, as a group, have the competencies and emotional intelligence to successfully drive their business goals over the next two years. More than half of these organizations say their leaders are ineffective because they do not sufficiently focus on foundational leadership skills, including emotional intelligence. 

Critical Question

  • What type of leaders do we need to make our organization successful in the future of work? 
  • How do we give leaders and prospective leaders the foundational skills to excel? 
  • Should investment in developing emotional intelligence in leaders be a higher priority than it currently is? 

Brandon Hall Group POV

We strongly believe that emotional intelligence is a critical foundational leadership competency. Collaborative, inclusive leadership is the future and emotional intelligence is essential for inclusive leadership. 

In Brandon Hall Group’s latest leadership-development research, self-awareness of biases and acting to minimize them were seen as the biggest weaknesses of leaders — by a two-to-one margin. 

We are working in an era of severe and ongoing disruption that requires resilient, creative, compassionate leaders who can tolerate ambiguity and continuous change. In addition, leaders are collaborating with new generations of workers who embrace diversity and inclusion, and aren’t afraid to leave their jobs if they don’t feel valued or see a lack of opportunities for development and advancement. 

Developing emotional intelligence is a prerequisite to success. It does not ensure success, but not having well-developed EI significantly impedes leader performance. For years, employers have failed to develop the leaders they need. Most employers we talk to understand the importance of improving leadership development. It starts with a commitment to developing emotional intelligence in leaders, from front-line managers to the C-Suite.


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