Why emotional intelligence is not enough

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Dec 22 2023 by David Livermore Print This Article

The difference in the success of emotionally intelligent leaders versus those who are blissfully unaware is mind boggling. In a seminal HBR article, Daniel Goleman argued that emotional intelligence makes a 90 percent difference between star leaders and average ones.

But emotional intelligence (EQ) doesn’t predict your effectiveness leading a diverse team. It’s not irrelevant - your EQ is critical part of managing the exhaustion that comes from leading a group with countless opinions, values, and needs - but you can’t rely on EQ to give you the skills to effectively read a diverse group and earn their trust. You need cultural intelligence (CQ) for that.

I’m often asked about the connections between cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence. For the TL;DR crowd, it boils down to this: Cultural intelligence picks up where emotional intelligence leaves off. EQ gives you the self-awareness and social sensibilities you need to detect and manage the emotions of people like you. CQ expands that ability to leading and interacting with people who come from different backgrounds than you.

For a bit more context, here’s what the research says followed by what it means for the real world.

What the Research Says

EQ and CQ are both rooted in the same body of intelligence research

Both kinds of intelligence can be understood from the theory of multiple loci of intelligence, which says that intelligence is not confined to a single source in the brain but instead, can be found in various areas of our cognitive functioning. In other words, it’s not enough to be smart. We need other forms of intelligence like social skills, self-awareness, and problem solving.

But here’s what I find even more important. The study of intelligence, whether emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, or practical intelligence, is consistently focused on having the ability to read a situation and adapt to it.

With this broader understanding of intelligence, we learn from experience, make sense of what happened, and use what we learn to adapt to our surrounding environments. Emotionally and culturally intelligent people make mistakes, but they differ from people without these intelligences in that they learn from the mistakes and use the insights to do better in future experiences.

EQ and CQ are related capabilities

Emotional and cultural intelligence share more than just a last name. I think of them as fraternal twins. They’re not the same person but they share similar DNA and the family resemblance is unmistakable. What the research says on a more technical level is that emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence are positively correlated. The

four factors of cultural intelligence are related to the four factors of emotional intelligence.

Intercultural interactions can trigger strong negative reactions. We’re irritated by what seems rude, inefficient, or confusing. Emotional intelligence helps to regulate these frustrations and it’s an essential part of dealing with the internal dissonance we feel when we encounter jarring behaviors from our diverse counterparts. Cultural intelligence gives us the skills to accurately interpret the behaviors and respond appropriately.

The ideal scenario is when we use EQ and CQ because the two forms of intelligence interact with each other. Individuals who score high in both forms of intelligence are predicted to adjust to diverse situations most successfully.

EQ and CQ are distinct capabilities

The research is equally clear that emotional and cultural intelligences are distinct from each other. Quite honestly, CQ doesn’t make much difference when you’re working in a homogeneous situation, though the likelihood of doing so is becoming increasingly rare.

EQ is a stronger predictor of leadership effectiveness in monocultural settings because it predicts likability and trustworthiness. However, CQ is a stronger predicter of leadership effectiveness in diverse situations because it gives us the capability to adjust how to garner trust and likability when there are diverse cultural values and identities present.

Other studies show similar distinctions between the two forms of intelligence. EQ and general leadership competencies predict how monocultural teams evaluate their leaders’ performance; but a leader’s CQ is the strongest variable that predicts how diverse team members evaluate their leaders.

IQ is NOT irrelevant

It’s become trendy to dismiss the importance of IQ and it’s right to say that IQ is woefully insufficient for being successful in our increasingly diverse, automated world. But IQ is still important. IQ is the strongest predictor of problem-solving abilities, critical thinking, pattern recognition, and reasoning skills. There are important debates about the cultural bias in IQ assessments. But regardless of whether IQ is measured accurately, the research is clear that cognitive abilities are an important part of leadership effectiveness particularly as the context for work becomes increasingly complex.

What this means in the real world

1. Start with EQ: For the most part, it makes sense to begin with developing emotional intelligence in yourself and others. Self-awareness is a critical part of effectively leading anyone. Becoming more conscious of my emotional state and learning how to detect and manage the emotions of people like me is the foundation for leading anyone effectively.

2. CQ picks up where EQ leaves off: Once we’ve developed the ability to detect and manage the emotions of ourselves and others like us, we’re primed to develop cultural intelligence. We can expand the social sensibilities we developed with EQ to improve our ability to work effectively with people who have different beliefs, values, and behaviors

3. Use them together for the highest level of effectiveness: The more we work with diverse groups, the more important it is for us to be self-aware and in control of our emotions (EQ). And the more diverse the groups we lead, the more critical is becomes for us to know how to accurately read and navigate unfamiliar behaviors (CQ).

There’s robust research behind both forms of intelligence and the findings are clear. Emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence are both essential for leading successfully in today’s digital, diverse world. One without the other is not enough. But together, the impact is enormous.

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About The Author

David Livermore
David Livermore

David Livermore is a thought leader in cultural intelligence (CQ) and global leadership and the author of "Leading with Cultural Intelligence". He is president and partner at the Cultural Intelligence Center in East Lansing, Michigan and a visiting research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.