EQ and the Corporate Ladder

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As height in the corporate career ladder increases, demonstrated EQ related perspectives and behaviors decrease.

So executives at the top are not the best at EQ in the organization.

And it is true that EQ can positively contribute to the success of a manager, executive and leader. So why the discrepancy?

Turns out, to use the common vernacular, often nice guys finish last!

So what’s happening? There are three ‘Qs’ that really make a difference:

1. IQ – critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, analytical reasoning, vision, strategy, perspective competitive analysis

2. TQ – technical, functional and business knowledge and skills and experience

3. EQ – people skills

People who get promoted and sent up the career ladder excel at IQ, are strong enough on TQ but lag on EQ. In most organizations, IQ and TQ are highly rewarded.

Low EQ is the main reason why first time managers fail. EQ is the most frequent topic leadership coaches have to address.

Paradoxically enough, the higher you get in the hierarchy, the more useful EQ will be. You are leading and managing more and more people as you climb the ladder.

EQ skills and behaviors allow the possessor to behave in the best way with others to get great things done. These skills and behaviors include:

1. Accurate self knowledge and awareness of strengths and weaknesses, especially as they relate to interpersonal and emotional behaviors.

2. Self regulation and management, especially as it relates to holding negative emotions in check.

3. The ability to read others in the same way you read yourself.

4. Understanding of how interpersonal transaction happen and work.

5. Deploying the appropriate pieces and parts of self against the people involved in the setting and process that’s occurring to get great things done.

These EQ skills can lead to higher engagement scores and more productive teamwork. These behaviors can increase retention of talent in the organization. These behaviors can also help develop talent.

So why don’t we promote people with these wonderful skills?

It’s not so much rejecting these skills, as it is heavily valuing IQ and TQ skills. As levels of responsibility increase in the organization, the need for making tough-minded decisions (layoffs, plant and store closings, firing people) will have a negative impact on others dispassionately. The cognitive demands of vision, strategy and tactical planning increases. The issues are bigger, the hours longer. Life-work balance suffers. The shareholder groups expand. The stakes are higher.

For all of those reasons, decision makers generally have a strong bias for IQ and TQ. If EQ comes along with that great. If it doesn’t and performance goals are achieved, the general attitude is that this is fine.


Much coaching resources are spent helping talented IQ and TQ talent grow a little EQ.

From a development standpoint, it seems that you can’t have it all. Apparently you can have either IQ or EQ along with acceptable TQ. Looking at the curriculum of business schools the focus is predominately IQ and TQ. Although more recently, they are bringing in aspects of EQ by using the case study method and by creating work and study teams. They are also including courses in self-exploration. But the brain has a limit and generally achievement oriented talent chooses IQ and TQ over EQ.

So there is a great deal of talent in organizations with lots of IQ and TQ with low motivation to add EQ. The best plan is to work with up and coming talent and convince them that there is a high payoff to building EQ skills as they move up the corporate ladder.

Robert W. Eichinger, PhD, and

Roger R. Pearman, EdD

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Photo by Jake Sloop on Unsplash

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