Much has been written lately about emotional intelligence and the role it plays in a successful career. But what is emotional intelligence? I suppose I could take the position that the U.S. Supreme Court took with pornography: “I can't define what [it] is…but I know it when I see it.” Recently a few members of The Alexander Group conducted a roundtable discussing this very topic.
Let me start by saying what emotional intelligence is NOT.
1. Emotional intelligence has nothing to do with your intellect or IQ. We all have seen many executives who are incredibly intelligent but don’t have a modicum of common sense. Recently, I interviewed one of the top software executives in the country. He arrived at the interview late with no apology and, after ordering a glass of wine at 3:00 in the afternoon, continued to take call after call. And he really wanted the position for this start-up technology company.
2. Emotional intelligence is not friendliness or empathy. While solid interpersonal skills play a role in emotional intelligence, all recruiters have stories of candidates who overstep boundaries by being overly familiar and talkative. My colleague Bill recalls a female executive who sends him birthday and Easter greetings every year via Plaxo despite the fact he met her once eight years ago. While Bill enjoys the shout out and it makes for a good story, he is not sure that the candidate has appropriately sized up their relationship or lack thereof.
3. Emotional intelligence has nothing to do with honesty and integrity. Actually, I believe that some of the best con artists, embezzlers, and self-promoters have a high degree of emotional intelligence, which makes them effective at their dubious profession.
4. Emotional intelligence is not equivalent to good judgment, though they overlap. Good judgment is synonymous with making solid business decisions and choices. While someone who has emotional intelligence often has good judgment, many make sound judgments from facts but miss the unspoken cues that someone with emotional intelligence gets.
There is substantial disagreement over what emotional intelligence is, how it is measured, and whether it can be taught. Emotional intelligence starts with reading the environment, listening to your audience, and assessing the appropriate response based on spoken and unspoken prompts. Here are five ways that it or the lack thereof has played out in the interview process.
1. You have a meeting scheduled from 5 pm to 6 pm. Evidence of poor emotional intelligence is arriving at 4:10 pm or taking 45 minutes to address the first question of “tell me a little about your firm or background.”
2. Your meeting is at a hotel restaurant at 10 am. Your host orders black coffee. You, on the other hand, notice there is a lavish breakfast buffet and excuse yourself before it closes, so you order a custom-made omelet and pile your plate with an assortment of pastries.
3. For your meeting with a top recruiter for a CMO position, you think the best way to show why you could work from Frankfurt rather than move to London is by bringing your newest squeeze to the interview. You fail to notice the look of horror on the recruiter’s face as your companion orders snacks for the table and monopolizes the conversation.
4. You are meeting the CEO of a company and, granted, it is a sunny day outside, but did you really have to don a red dress and heels when on your prior meetings you noticed that navy suits were the order of the day?
5. You meet with executives for a company for which you want to work or do work. The executives disagree among themselves about the position or project. While it would be easy to spout off a quick response and jump into the fray, the better tack is to pause, listen, and ask more questions so that you are not jumping in on an internal political issue or have not misread the underlying communication that was taking place.
These are obviously bury-your-face-in-your-hands kinds of blunders. But the news is not all bad. Many executives have a highly developed emotional intelligence.