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The Connection Between IQ, EQ & Leadership

John J Hughes, E. I. Assessments, LLC

At some point in your early development, your IQ or overall intelligence was assessed and used as a determining factor in placing you in a class or program focused on your success in the future. Unfortunately, while your IQ does measure your ability to perform certain cognitive functions, like math and reading, it falls far short as being a predictor of someone's future success. Still, when you were young and needed to be placed in school, your IQ and test scores were the only things that mattered. Perhaps the sharpest criticism of the IQ test is the lack of consideration towards different cultures and religions; resulting in an assessment that is considered ethnically and culturally bias. Regardless, IQ tests are still considered reliable enough to determine a person’s future opportunities.

The high IQ business people whom I have worked with often have an intense ability to absorb, retain, and recall information which they quickly apply to solve problems. High IQ people are good at:

  • Reasoning, forming concepts, and solving job-related problems.

  • Recalling, categorizing, and synthesizing information.

  • Accumulating and communicating relevant knowledge.

  • Understanding and applying mathematical concepts.

  • Employing numerical signs and symbols.

  • Writing, reading, and comprehending text.

  • Processing and analyzing visual data and patterns.

  • Discriminating and combining auditory information.

These are the cognitive skills we all possess and develop to varying degrees. Your cognitive intelligence, your IQ, has grown to and has remained at a certain level for your whole life. In school or work, being recognized for having a high IQ is both an asset and self-confidence builder. People with high IQ’s are often self-motivated with high career aspirations.  

Some leaders with high IQ’s that I know move very quickly and confidently addressing and solving problems and making decisions. However, in spite of their high cognitive intelligence, they do not always make the best decisions. So, the leadership question studied in recent years has been: “What are the reasons for why some very cognitively intelligent people will make very poor leaders? Through research, we have come to recognize the important impact of a leader’s emotional intelligence skills on personal performance and team results.  

In its most practical definition, emotional intelligence is a collection of skills which help you understand yourself and others so that you can adjust your behavior to be a more effective leader. The two Yale psychologists who are credited with developing the initial research and creating the term emotional intelligence are Peter Salovey and John Mayer. The definition they offer is: "Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth."

When we use the word intelligence, it often relates to measurable aptitudes in math, writing and language skills which have been the cornerstones of our educational system building up to the SAT’s and GRE’s. Expanding what he saw as a rather narrow definition, the work of Howard Gardner is often cited in his book, “Multiple Intelligences”, which takes in and gives a much broader view of intelligence. Yes, math and logic skills are needed for solving problems and linguistic knowledge is used for communicating language. However, Gardner started by defining intelligence as “the capacity to solve problems”. This immediately expanded beyond the limits of the IQ to include visual, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences.  

I believe these last two intelligences, interpersonal and intrapersonal, are the basis of your emotional intelligence skills. High EQ people:

  • Create goals that are professionally exciting and engaging.

  • Have a deep belief in their abilities while also being able to learn.

  • Are conscious of their emotions & their impact on others.

  • Know how to assert and defend their opinions, ideas, and feelings.

  • Maintain a positive outlook in stressful situations.

  • Can effectively manages negative feelings in themselves and others.

  • Sacrifice for the benefit of the team, group, and/or the community.

  • Use their active listening skills to establish trusting relationships.


When Dan Goleman published “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” in 1995, I was actually working at the New York Times and, over the years, had an opportunity to have several discussions with him. Almost immediately, I became fascinated with the topic for several reasons, both personal and professional. The emotional intelligence framework permitted me to look at leadership and executive development in a different way. For the first time, psychological aspects, such as emotional self-awareness, empathy, and stress tolerance, were now becoming part of current leadership theories.

In 1997, I began acquiring certifications in emotional intelligence assessments because I believe that these are the necessary skills that every leader needs to develop in order to be effective. That year I attended the certification program for the Emotional Intelligence Quotient, the EQ-i, which was conducted by its inventor, Dr. Reuvan Bar-On, and Steve Stein, its developer and the president of MHS. Though I am also certified in the MSCEIT, the ECI, and the ESCI, the EQ-i 2.0 is my primary executive coaching instrument due to its accuracy.

Since establishing E. I. Assessments, LLC in 2007, I have administered and debriefed over 1,500 EQ-i Reports and have seen a strong correlation between the EQ-i scores and the client’s effectiveness as a leader. I know that with the right information, focus, and energy, anyone can further develop and apply his or her emotional intelligence skills which is important to get to the next level of leadership.

Let’s return to the question: What are the reasons some very cognitively intelligent people make very poor leaders?  

Quite often, the answer can be found in a poor leader’s lack of emotional intelligence skills; specifically in the areas of Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, Assertiveness, and Impulse Control. I have learned from delivering hundreds of EQ-I Reports to some highly cognitive executives and professionals, that having the right balance of these skills is the key to effective leadership. It actually shows up in the EQ-i 2.0 data.

One important characteristic of the EQ-i is the way the leadership skills data is reported, which is similar to the IQ with a standard deviation of 15. Someone who has an IQ of 115 is considered to have above average intelligence and would be capable of managing the intellectual and mental demands of most professions. A person with an IQ of 115 or above, which is estimated to be 15% of the population, is considered to have a high cognitive capacity for learning.

The same is true with EQ-i scores, which are also based on 100 with a standard deviation of 15. An individual who scores over 115 in a particular EQ-i skill is often operating at a very high level with that specific capability. However, the developmental challenge as an executive coach is to make sure the client’s EQ skills remain properly balanced. For example, a person who scores high in Assertiveness should also develop a high level of Empathy.  

Think of those leaders in your life who you would consider to be successful in the challenges they have taken on and in the goals they have accomplished. I believe that each of us already has a scale like this built into our subconsciousness which constantly observes and judges. It constantly is asking the question “What is my leader doing and how is he or she doing it?” The what is IQ and the how is EQ.

To illustrate what I believe to be the relationship between IQ & EQ, I have designed this grid to consider the relationship between these two measurements and its correlation to effective leadership.  To validate the model, think about those business leaders you have worked for and, if given the opportunity, you would gladly work for again. I would imagine you would place these leaders in the upper right quadrant, high IQ and EQ.  Conversely, you would probably place leaders who you hope to never work for again in the lower left quadrant, low IQ, EQ or both.

Consider the leaders outside of business who you admire but have never met. For me, a personal hero and a leader whom I would place in that upper right quadrant, is the late General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. He was intellectually brilliant to attain his level of command and his leadership style is contained in his quote, “I would never trust a man who didn't cry; he wouldn't be human.” In his autobiography, “It Doesn’t Take A Hero”, General Schwarzkopf identifies the three most important factors before going into battle: the clarity of the goal, the level of preparedness of his troops, and the accommodations of the soldier’s families. He knew that if his troops were worried about their families then they would be distracted and their focus would not be on combat. To me, that is excellence in leadership.

As an EQ-i coach, my role is to help executives, managers, leaders, and professional staff understand and apply their EQ-i results to move to and to stay in the upper right quadrant of the grid.

For further insight and analysis on emotional intelligence and the EQ-i, sign up for my newsletter or contact me directly to learn more.

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