Leader Lab. Emotional Intelligence At Work: Choose And Apply Your Measure Carefully

October 11, 2010

My new post at The Leader Lab is entitled “Emotional Intelligence at Work: Choose and Apply Your Measure Carefully.” It is based on a fascinating and well done study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (JAP).  I have to confess this JAP research article was NOT easy to read. Researchers could do a lot to advance evidence-based management if they would explain their findings in more practical and accessible ways. Ugh.

The take-away for me that I did NOT expect to find was to be very careful using emotional intelligence (EI) measures in your work place. While certain types of measures can predict job performance, there are too many measures of EI on the market and they produce different results. The authors of the study issued those cautions about EI even after showing that the ability to recognize, understand, and then regulate emotions affected employee performance.

But this study also showed, much to my surprise, that measures of cognitive ability and conscientiousness not only affected the emotion-performance process, they also had direct links to performance.  Hire bright, conscientious folks and then partner with them to continuously improve your existing systems and create innovative new systems at work. There is more leverage to that approach than focusing on emotions.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Jim Taggart says:


    If you think psychologists have difficulty expressing themselves clearly, read some economics journals. Now that’s pain in action.

    Good post on EI, a topic I’ve been interested in for some time and done some writing as it related to leadership development. Indeed, you’re correct about being careful on its use. It reminds me of the popularity of such personality type indicator tools such as Myers-Briggs (MBTI).

    One organization I worked in for a long time was infatuated with the MBTI, to the extent that employees started being pigeon-holed and labeled. When this occurs you risk creating more damage to your organization than any benefits such a tool might offer.

    On emotional intelligence and its application in the workplace, management would do well to include the admonition: “Approach and use with care. Highly flamable.”

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Jim, I think I will pass on the economics journals 🙂 I concur completely that management should approach EI with caution, but of course, the consultants don’t sell that solution. Thanks! Bret

  2. Tim Vanderpyl says:


    MBTI can be valuable, but like Jim said, it can be dangerous as well. My organization uses Personality Dimensions, which builds on Meyers-Briggs using colours to represent the personality types. When I facilitate these courses, we emphasize over and over that it is just a tool, not the only tool, we can use to help us out.

    The study Bret mentioned is quite fascinating though. I work in HR and see how EI is important on the job. It is extremely complicated though to accurately predict a candidate’s potential EI, and how that EI will correlate to their performance as a leader. The interrelatedness of cognitive ability and EI makes sense, and it is neat to see it evidenced by the study. The most social person in the world is going to be limited on the job if he/she is limited cognitively. Social skills are only part of the equation.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Tim! I love the MBTI, but you are so right that it should never be used as a label or excuse for behavior. It’s a lens we use to understand how we differ from other folks. I too was glad to find the EI study. It helps me make sense of the role EI plays. Thanks!! Bret