Emotions are data - how can professionals use them to help career and leadership success?


Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ) is a set of personal emotional and social skills that help us develop better relationships, greater wellbeing and quality of life, and better personal effectiveness. Unlike Cognitive Intelligence (the IQ) which is more or less fixed, Emotional Intelligence can be learnt, developed and measured.

Image by Shirin Alian

What is Emotional Intelligence?

There are several formal definitions, for example:

  • Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way (EQ-i 2.0)

  • Emotional Intelligence is 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 (Salovey & Mayer)

  • Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions, and recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others (Goleman)

What is Emotional Intelligence not?

Emotional Intelligence is not:

  • IQ. IQ is about cognitive intelligence and quickness of metal comprehension, rather than ability to understand and manage emotions. IQ sets and peaks around late teens, but EI increases with age and can be developed. EI and IQ are not well correlated, and the stereotype highly-intelligent person with poor social skills will be known to many.

  • Personality. Personality is the distinctively different characteristics or sum total of a person including their behaviour and character traits. Personality is much more fixed than EI.


How does Emotional Intelligence matter?

Emotional Intelligence might seem like a recent invention, but has actually been around for millennia. It is easy to see how emotional self awareness and management could improve quality of life, and how social skills help us create better relationships. The corporate world is greatly interested in Emotional Intelligence, because of its link to workplace individual and team performance, leadership, and ultimate financial performance and success. The internet is full of “Return on Investment” studies showing the benefits of EI in recruitment, training and development of individuals and teams at multiple levels.


Emotional Intelligence is responsible for 27-45% of an individual’s success in a given job, whereas IQ can only predict on average 6% (Wagner 1997). When looking at start performers in an organisation, EI accounts for 85% of their performance and IQ/technical skills for only 15% (golemanei.com). And in a survey of multi-millionaires, the top 5 factors listed as most responsible for their success were all reflections of emotional intelligence (Stanley 2001). Further discussions around EI can be accessed here.

A key concept for me is the idea that emotions are data. Rather than being ruled by emotions, we can use emotions as a source of data to help us. Emotions can tell us about our needs and values. For example, not being invited to a group tells us that our need for belonging is not being met. Being unjustly overlooked for career progression tells us that our value of fairness is being challenged; thus, emotions can be used to help us know what our values are. We can use emotions to influence others also: anger breeds anger, whereas smiles create smiles!

What can developing Emotional Intelligence help me with?

Developing Emotional Intelligence is about your performance as much as your emotions. Advantages of developing your Emotional Intelligence include (Neale et al 2009):

  • Improved communication

  • Better empathy

  • Improved relationships

  • Acting with integrity

  • Respect for others

  • Better career prospects

  • Ability to deal with change better

  • Feeling more powerful and confident

  • Reduced stress

  • Increased creativity

  • Better resilience

  • Growth mindset

Emotional Intelligence and coaching

EI comes up time and time again in many areas when discussing career performance, career satisfaction, leadership, life balance, and others. It is thus a theme that permeates all aspects of professional and personal life. In coaching, the four dimensional model gives a useful framework:

1: Noticing and understanding emotions in self

2: Noticing and understanding emotions in others

3: Effectively regulating emotions

4: Using emotions (as data or tools) to facilitate performance

“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” — Seneca

Are you ready to work on your Emotional Intelligence? Book your first (free) coaching session here.

Image by Andy Li