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Why High EQ Can Lead To Career Success

Research shows the link between emotional intelligence and leadership capacity

Have you ever been in a situation at work where you’ve struggled to control your emotions? Fallen out with a colleague? Found it exhausting to work in a team? They’re all signs that you lack high EQ, one of the essential traits leaders need for the workplace today. 

According to Daniel Skarlicki, the Edgar F. Kaiser Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, who was also elected a fellow of the American Psychological Association and awarded the UBC Killam Research Prize for 2019, low emotional intelligence makes it difficult to pick up on key social and emotional cues in the workplace.

“You can misread the other party,” Daniel explains. “So [you] make the assumption [someone] wants X when they actually want Y. Someone who is low in EQ is likely to lack self-control, be prone to be emotional outbursts, and not foster or influence psychological safety.”

Daniel points to research that indicates a correlation between high EQ and better work performance.

“Emotionally intelligent people tend to speak up not just more often, but more effectively,” he says. “For example, fear is a natural emotion, but emotional intelligence helps people not be paralyzed by fears. They’re able to be more courageous, more mindful and more thoughtful. They’re better equipped to take innovative ideas to senior leaders and they’re able to see unique opportunities others might have missed.”

Benefits of high EQ

Emotional intelligence is not an all-encompassing solution to workplace success though. You can’t wing it.

“If you have just EQ and no other skills, it’s not a substitute,” Daniel explains. “EQ has been shown to compensate for low scores on other dimensions of performance, but it’s limited. You can’t possess high EQ and lack other competencies.”

Why is EQ important for MBAs?

Daniel says emotional intelligence trumps cognitive ability when it comes to effective leadership. MBA programs can equip students with the hard business knowledge around finance, accounting, and strategy, but it’s in the development of soft skills where MBAs can thrive.

So much of the curriculum is built around the completion of projects in diverse, multicultural teams. One of the most critical predictors of whether these teams will succeed, however, is the level of psychological safety felt by MBA students in their respective teams.

Daniel explains that having the savvy to build a strong team is a key trait for those with high EQ. 

“When you’ve got a leader who goes on a rant and demonstrates negative emotions, interpersonal trust can disappear,” he explains, “and the ability for the team to effectively collaborate lessens considerably.”


A strong tell-tale sign you have high EQ is if you’re able to manage your emotions in challenging situations with your boss or colleagues.

“It’s about maintaining an even keel and knowing when to pick your battles,” says Daniel.  “You don’t get upset at everything. It’s the ability to express one’s emotions clearly to others, not just to tell people when you’re upset but to inspire others and evoke emotion in others.”

If you can read a room and pick up on the emotions of those around you, you are likely emotionally intelligent. Another indicator? You can detect the authenticity of other people’s emotions when they’re interacting with you.

Daniel is just one of many researchers studying how emotional intelligence impacts teams, organizations and work culture. John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Richard Roberts of the Center for New Constructs, along with Sigal Barsade of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvia, in a paper called Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence, cites better social relations during work performance and negotiations as distinguishing characteristics of those with high emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence, a paper by Peter Salovey of Yale University and John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire, suggests emotional intelligence as a subset of social intelligence, involves the ‘ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s own thinking and actions.’

In essence, you can’t lead others if you can’t lead yourself and developing that skill early into an MBA degree is a critical aspect of nurturing effective leadership by the time you graduate. To summarize Peter and John, people who approach life with emotional intelligence should be at an advantage when solving problems adaptively. 

Ultimately, it’s being able to recognize and regulate your own and others’ feelings.