The term “emotional intelligence” (EI), often interchanged with the term “emotional quotient” (EQ), became popular after Daniel Goleman published his first book Emotional Intelligence in 1995.

In his best-seller Working with Emotional Intelligence, Dr Goleman pointed out that IQ only accounts for 20 per cent of a person’s success in life; the rest is attributed to other factors including EQ.

The discussion of EQ often begins with an emotional challenge from Greek philosopher Aristotle:

“Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy”.

Typically, everyone gets anxious, frustrated, worried and even angry at times. It’s bad enough to feel these emotions, but brain researchers have recently found that experiencing them actually inhibits cognitive function. It’s called cortical inhibition, or the “amygdala hijack” as Dr Goleman termed it.

So the old saying, “I was so upset I couldn’t think straight” is actually true. Think about the last time you got mad at yourself for hitting a bad golf shot. What typically happens to your performance after that? It gets worse. When you experience negative emotions, you are not as likely to make the best decisions.

Key role

Studies have demonstrated that leaders who consistently outperform their peers not only have the technical skills required, but more importantly, have mastered most of the aspects of emotional intelligence.

In the classic Harvard Business Review article, What Makes a Leader? published in November-December 1998, Daniel Goleman states that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.

It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as “threshold capabilities”; that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.

But his research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is an essential requirement of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.

There is growing evidence that the range of abilities that constitutes what is now commonly known as emotional intelligence plays a key role in determining a leader’s success in life and in the workplace.

Researchers have uncovered links between specific elements of emotional intelligence and specific behaviours associated with leadership effectiveness and ineffectiveness.

Positive realism

Mood contagion stems from neurobiology. Positive behaviours — such as exhibiting empathy — create a chemical connection between a leader’s and his or her followers’ brains.

Good moods galvanise good performance, but it doesn’t make sense for a leader to be as chipper as a blue jay at dawn if sales are tanking or the business is going under.

The most effective executives display moods and behaviours that match the situation at hand, with a healthy dose of optimism mixed in. They respect how other people are feeling — even if it is glum or defeated — but they also model what it looks like to move forward with hope and humour.

How do you foster the neurobiological changes that create positive behaviours and emotions in your employees? Dr Goleman and his colleague and co-author, Richard Boyatzis, advise sharpening your social intelligence skills.

When talking about leaders’ moods, the importance of resonance cannot be overstated. While Dr Goleman’s research suggests that leaders should generally be upbeat, their behaviour must be rooted in realism, especially when faced with a crisis.

Emotional intelligence travels through an organisation like electricity over telephone wires. Depressed, ruthless bosses create toxic organisations filled with negative underachievers.

But if you are an upbeat, inspirational leader, you cultivate positive employees who embrace and surmount even the toughest challenges.

Emotional leadership isn’t just putting on a game face every day. It means understanding your impact on others — then adjusting your style accordingly. It is a difficult process of self-discovery — but essential before you can tackle your leadership responsibilities.