Emotional Intelligence | Book Review

“In a sense, we have two brains, two minds – and two different kinds of intelligence: rational and emotional. Indeed, intellect cannot work at its best without emotional intelligence.” (p. 28)

Subtitled Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman’s foundational work continues to exert influence today. In his contemporary introduction, Goleman passionately challenges having his findings overstated:

I would like to clear up here and now. One is the bizarre – though widely repeated fallacy that
“EQ counts for 80 percent of success.” This claim is preposterous.
(p. xiii)

Technical competency is frequently mentioned as the basis for promotion in organizations. But this does not necessarily translate into leadership potential. Goleman flatly informs us: “But IQ washes out when it comes to predicting who, among a talented pool of candidates within an intellectually demanding profession, will become the strongest leader (p. xiv).”

Consider the common question whether leaders are born rather than made. [Goleman’s] mapping offers a challenge to those who subscribe to a narrow view of intelligence, arguing that IQ is a genetic given that cannot be changed by life experience, and that our destiny in life is largely fixed by these aptitudes. What can we change that will help our children fare better in life? (pp. xxi-xxii). Understanding emotional intelligence (EI) then becomes a vital tool for the developmentally-focused leader, genuinely interested in a sustained pipeline of future leaders.

Goleman’s seminal work is also holistic, including sections on childhood adolescence (part four) and national policy commentary (part five). This review highlights the first three sections emphasizing correlation to Energize2Lead (E2L) assessments and Personal Leadership Philosophy application.

Part I | The Emotional Brain | One of Two

During Academy Leadership Aligning and Accomplishing Goals workshops, we stress the importance of understanding multiple dimensions of people (Life’s Compass Rose) as well as the personal goals and dreams of our subordinates (and ourselves). It (EI) suggests that our deepest feelings, our passions and our longings, are essential guides, and that our species owes much of its existence to their power in human affairs (pp. 3-4).

We often use the terms left and right brain, corresponding to analytical red and green E2L colors, and more social and creative yellow and blue E2L colors, respectively. Goleman articulates a similar dichotomy. One is an act of the emotional mind, the other of the rational mind. In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels (p. 8).

Part II | The Nature of Emotional Intelligence | Leader Application

Let’s return to our typical reliance on technical competency as a basis for organizational advancement. Goleman has his own take on the Pareto Principle: At best, IQ contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80 percent to other factors (p. 34).

Among these other factors, Goleman mentions abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope (p. 34). As leaders, we can share our personality traits, or our other factors, in our Personal Leadership Philosophy, and genuinely request feedback when we fall short.  

Taking time to regularly capture journal entries, especially when under stress, may prove helpful. Goleman calls such self-awareness a neutral mode that maintains self-reflectiveness even amidst turbulent emotions (p. 47). This reminds us of Marshall Goldsmith’s daily active questions we may ask ourselves (Did I do my best to…?).

What may happen when we poorly manage stress, or our energy? Goleman calls out chronic worriers (think dominant blue E2L profiles) – [who] worry about a wide range of things, most of which have almost no chance of happening (p. 67). It’s simply a waste of energy.

A natural question arises: What type of environment do we typically create as leaders? Goleman argues that anxiety undermines the intellect. In a complex, intellectually demanding, and high-pressure task such as that of air traffic controllers, for example, having chronically high anxiety is an almost sure predictor that a person will fail in training or in the field (p. 83).

This doesn’t mean we should be passive leaders. Goleman calls for a mildly elated state, hypomania, as it is technically called – [that] seems optimal for writers and others in creative callings that demand fluidity and imaginative diversity of thought (p. 85). It is related to Mihaly Csikszentmihali’s construct, flow. Being able to enter flow is emotional intelligence at its best; flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performance and learning (p. 90).

Emotional Intelligence Applied | Lead From the Heart

Like Stanley McChrystal’s reflections about Frederick Winslow Taylor, Goleman looks back at a long period of managerial, corporate hierarchy when the manipulative, jungle-fighter boss was rewarded (p. 149).

The original Academy Leadership Communicating as a Leader workshop was improved and renamed several years ago to – Feedback, The Essential Connection.  Goleman likewise concludes  feedback is the life of the organization – the exchange of information that lets people know if the job they are doing is going well or needs to be fine-tuned, upgraded, or redirected entirely (p. 151).

Management is fine if all we want is compliance, not a good strategy if we’re looking for high levels of engagement. Goleman points out many managers are too willing to criticize, but frugal with praise, leaving their employees feeling that they only hear about how they’re doing when they make a mistake (p. 152). It should come as no surprise that many leadership course attendees mention that evaluation and coaching are treated interchangeably at their organizations.

Matrix organizational structures abound today defying traditional hierarchical ways of doing work. Pioneering work such as Strategy That Works convincingly concludes that effective interdependent functional groups are required for effective execution. Goleman anticipated this: Many things people do at work depend on their ability to call on a loose network of fellow workers; different tasks can mean calling on different members of the network (p. 161). 

In Mark Crowley’s Lead From the Heart,  he cites studies linking the brain to the heart, such as the Vagus nerve. Goleman’s work possibly served as a pointer, noticing that a network of researchers is finding that the chemical messengers that operate most extensively in both brain and immune system are those that are most dense in neural areas that regulate emotion (p. 167).


Emotions matter. People matter.

Note: Daniel Goleman generously provided a copy of his book for review.

JE | September 2019