The Faulty Assumption Most Leaders Make about EQ

Published July 25, 2017

The term “emotional intelligence” has gained widespread popularity in leadership circles. This is cause for celebration. For too long, leadership evaluations and decisions have been plagued by tunnel vision, measuring the results of someone’s leadership using only the most surface level metrics: sales growth, church size or attendance, market growth, revenues or profits, number of homeless people fed, etc. However an organization defined “success” was the metric used to measure the effectiveness of a leader, even though it only reflected the superficial numerical results of the mission.

The truth is that all leaders make a bigger impact in another important domain—their “wake” as I like to call it.

A leader’s wake is composed of the ripples and effects of their own emotional expression and how they interact with others. As Travis Bradbury reminded us at last year’s Summit, to be truly effective, a leader must possess awareness of self, awareness of others, and the ability to manage both. That is a much taller order than just “running up the numbers.” It assumes some serious “equipment” inside the leader’s head and heart.

As Peter puts it, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8) So, we see that both the Bible and leadership research emphasize the character components that undergird successful performance. The idea behind emotional intelligence is clear: build the equipment in a way that is conducive to emotional intelligence.

But how do we do that? In my experience, many leaders get this wrong.

The sad truth is that many of us start with a faulty assumption. We think we can learn emotional intelligence by way of great content in seminars, or podcasts or books. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The components of emotional intelligence, such as “self-awareness, self-management, relational awareness and relational management” require more than information alone. Gaining those abilities is a process of true emotional development. Many leaders rely too heavily on information, ignoring the necessity of relational and experiential development that would nurture and grow the emotional intelligence they need.

Said another way, leaders need a “process” of development beyond simply consuming information. This process must include developmental relationships with the right people, combined with experiential learning.

1) Leaders need real relationships with others who can first see what they can’t see, make the leader aware of what they can’t see and then to teach and model those new “self and other” skills to that leader to practice in real time. We know from neuroscience that change requires not only awareness, but also relationships that focus on the awareness of how we need to change.

2) Another crucial factor is called “deliberate practice.” This is where the leader can be further made aware of what is needed to manage self and others more effectively, and work it out in real-life situations.

So, my advice in thinking about your own leadership development and the development of the people you steward is this: Gain informational awareness. It is essential.

But also, gain feedback awareness from others about how that information applies to you and your mission, especially stakeholders in your performance. They are the ones who live in your “wake.” Enlist the help of wise and skilled “others” who can help you know what and how you need to change, as well as how to get there through feedback, skills-building and deliberate practice. In that combination of relational support, awareness, focused attention and practice over time in a structured way, literal new equipment will begin to develop in your heart, mind and soul.

And you will do what Peter said: you will avoid being unproductive and ineffective in your leadership work.

God Bless,


About the Author(s)
Henry Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud

Clinical Psychologist & Acclaimed Leadership Expert

Leadership University

Dr. Henry Cloud is an acclaimed leadership expert, clinical psychologist and New York Times best-selling author. His 45 books have sold nearly 15 million copies worldwide. He has an extensive executive coaching background and experience as a leadership consultant, devoting the majority of his time working with CEOs, leadership teams and executives to improve performance, leadership skills and culture. Dr. Cloud founded and built a healthcare company starting in 1987, which operated inpatient, and outpatient treatment centers in forty markets in the Western U.S. There, he served as Clinical Director and principal for ten years. In the context of hands-on clinical experience, he developed and researched many of the treatment principles and methods that he communicates to audiences today. After selling the company, he devoted his time to consulting and coaching, spreading principles of hope and life-change through speaking, writing and media. Throughout the same years and until the present, he has devoted much of his career to leadership performance and development, blending the disciplines of leadership and human functioning to helping CEO’s, teams, organizations and family entities. His book, Integrity, was dubbed by the New York Times as “the best book in the bunch.” In 2011, Necessary Endings was called “the most important book you read all year.” His book Boundaries For Leaders was named by CEO Reads in the top five leadership books of its year. His newest book, The Power of the Other, debuted at #5 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Dr. Cloud’s work has been featured and reviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Publisher’s Weekly, Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. Success magazine named Dr. Cloud in the top 25 most influential leaders in personal growth and development, alongside Oprah, Brene Brown, Seth Godin and others.

Years at GLS 1996, 2005, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2021