Age and EQ

Surprise! EQ appears to increase with age. As you get older, you become more people smart.

There is a bit more to the story.

How do you get smarter about people? What we mean by ‘smarter’ is you understand people better and the predictions you make about others have a higher chance of coming true.

The increase in people reading skills comes from knowing more people! Along with maybe knowing a greater diversity of people. Along with knowing individual people longer so that you can track your predictions and see how things actually turned out.

So with the bigger sample of people to watch, evaluate, classify and bucket, you can more accurately check if your initial views were correct. Did they turn out as you thought they would?

So over a longer period of time, you can learn more about people and with feedback about how your predictions turned out, you can improve your prediction formulas.

Additionally, you gain knowledge about yourself and others over time. You read books. You watch movies. You watch real life playing out on TV. You build relationships. You end relationships. You make peace with an enemy. You watch groups form, make a splash and disappear. You listen to commentary. You watch your children and their children grow. You watch other people’s children grow. You may follow celebrities and follow their successes and falls and then rehabilitation. So over a longer life, you take in a lot more evidence, science and practical information about how people act and behave across a wider swatch of situations.

Another aspect of EQ also changes: your need for individual achievement chills. Research shows that the peak for achievement for most people is around the late 30s to early 40s. For most, but not all, the need for making an individual mark on the world decreases. That actually increases whatever EQ you have because you become slightly more selfless, willing to help others achieve and share successes. You become slightly more willing to collaborate.

Along with the decrease in individual motivation comes an increase in self-knowledge and more self-confidence. You now have 40 years of data about yourself, the good, bad and the ugly. You probably have a bit more humility. All of this would allow whatever EQ skills you have to play better.

Because of the increase in exposure to diverse events and social processes, you have observed a bigger sample about how things work. What leads to what? What works best? What doesn’t work? You have a bigger library of experiences to consult. This again increases whatever EQ skills you have.

So over time, the sharp edge of self and ego are burnished to a rounded, more gentle shape. You hurt other people less. You are less likely to demonstrate aggression. You are a little less likely to impulsively respond to others. You snap at people less. You are more tolerant. All of that magnifies the EQ skills you have.

So, possibly, with age comes wisdom. With wisdom comes higher levels of EQ.


Our colleague, Kerry Bunker, published an article called “The Young and the Clueless,” which reported that EQ skills were the last to appear in executives. He found that cognitive skills were first to show such as intelligence, critical and analytical thinking, problem solving, decision-making, and strategy and planning.

A second set of skills emerged that were primarily functional and technical. These come mostly through formal education and work experience in marketing, manufacturing, sales, finance, and HR. Then years and years of experience follow in which people put energy into planning things and running things. Often managers get experience in international, wholesale, retail, B2B, B2C, regulatory affairs, and government relations settings.

The last skill set to appear, IF IT APPEARED AT ALL, was EQ. For those for whom it didn’t appear at all, career derailment was a strong probability. Individuals whose EQ skills evolved, combined the people lessons of life and consolidated these with the requirements of the role at the top. As another colleague, Marshall Goldsmith, whose book entitled, What Got you Here, Will not Get you There, pointed out you don’t need much EQ to get promoted to the top, but you need EQ to stay there and prosper.

Yet another colleague, Michael Lombardo, noted that the late addition of EQ skills for people who want to get to the top of the career ladder created a career time bomb. He observed that it was hard to convince up and coming young managers and directors to spend any time working on their EQ skills – in preparation for a time later when we knew those skills were going to be needed. The young guns didn’t need strong EQ skills on the way up and did not understand that they would be needed later. In fact, many looked down on others with high EQ. They thought, “nice guys finish last”.


The lack of attention to EQ skills on the way up resulted in many leadership and executive coaches being called in to help. Organizations seek out coaches to work with a recently promoted and struggling senior executive on their listening skills, their delegation skills, and their engagement skills. All these are EQ skills.

As researcher, writer, and executive coach Mike Lombardo expressed to clients: pay early in your career to learn EQ or pay me later. At some point you are going to pay someone to help you develop your EQ skills. It’s cheaper and more useful the earlier you start. (But we executive coaches make more money if you wait!).

So the funny catch-22 is that as you age, your EQ skills have a high chance of getting better. That should mean that higher level and older executives should have more EQ.

But individuals are promoted without considering their EQ skills. Since we don’t pay much attention to their EQ skills early in careers, individuals don’t put much effort or investment into developing them. Then when they get to higher levels of management, they discover that they need these skills. While coaching does help, it’s very expensive and time sensitive.

Better to start earlier focusing and developing EQ skills. Try to have all of the life experiences that make you “people smarter” earlier. You can pay us a little now or much more later!

The EQDashboard can help you do it now, and start profiting earlier.

Robert W. Eichinger, PhD, and

Roger R. Pearman, EdD

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