From IQ to EQ: High IQ Doesn’t Guarantee Success

We used to believe that a high IQ, by definition, results in a successful career. That is not the case anymore—now a high IQ can be regarded as a social challenge. These days, we focus on emotional intelligence (EQ) instead. Companies are increasingly hiring people with emphatic abilities, intuition, self-knowledge, and social skills.

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Life is not necessarily fair

Who will become successful? Today it is not necessarily the cleverest student who is the most successful (measured by traditional factors such as salary and job position). Life is not fair and does not necessarily favor the most hardworking or the cleverest person. Increasingly, it is not the cleverest person who does best at all. The focus is now changing from IQ (intelligence quotient) to EQ (emotional quotient).

EQ means a person’s combined ability and motivation to understand other people and the ability to be part of relationships. We live in a relationship-based society, unlike before, where having the right relationships and contacts was reserved for the few. Now, everybody can build a powerful platform. However, you have to inspire confidence in people to be able to build this platform. Are you skeptical?

The other day, my good, critical colleague wrote to me after he read my arguments about IQ being replaced by EQ as the most sought-after competence:

I agree that EQ in many ways is more important than IQ because a person with a super high IQ is of little use if he/she is unable to work together with other people due to a low EQ. However, I do believe that requirements differ depending on the specific job function. For example, I know a technician who works for Nokia, and he definitely has some problems with his EQ, but he scores VERY high on IQ, and in his job function, the company can accept that he is a bit ‘difficult’ because he is capable of quickly solving very complex technical problems. It would probably not hurt if his EQ was higher, but I have to say that it could be interesting to investigate if there is a connection between IQ and EQ in the sense that if you have an IQ higher than X, then you will not be able to have an EQ higher than Y. In my experience, people with a very high IQ always seem to have some serious problems when it comes to the emotional aspects of work and life, so perhaps there is a connection.”

I could not agree more! What do you think?

It is not about being the most intelligent

People have become less authoritarian, and the younger generations have become even more so compared to the more mature employees. People follow those they trust and listen to those who do sensible things. Create something meaningful or disappear, as I usually stress. Therefore, your EQ is incredibly important if you want people to listen and follow you.

It may eventually be accepted that a person’s IQ cannot be used to predict a person’s success, either in personal life or in business—a realization that has made Daniel Goleman an award-winning author. If you want to become successful, you need to consider that your achievements must go hand in hand with your ability to collaborate, motivate, and communicate with other people. Indeed, it seems that many not-so-well-educated, self-made people do significantly better than expected and have achieved incredible success despite having an average IQ.

While working on my book Take Control of Your Career, I realized that there is no connection whatsoever between how clever a person is and how successful he or she will become. After 10 years of work analyzing leaders and companies’ ability to build, nurture, and expand professional relationships, I have made the conclusion that EQ is more important than other personality traits and that it exceeds IQ as the most relevant factor of one’s ability to achieve success in life as well as in business.

You are guided by emotions

EQ (emotional quotient) measures emotional intelligence, which is the ability to assess what is happening to you emotionally. Most of us work in a job with responsibilities greater than those we had previously. Specialists are being forced to become broader and broader in their capabilities. Even positions that were previously identified as best suited for introverted and internally oriented individuals have come to depend on cooperation and human contact. Many studies on neuropsychology suggest that our emotions have their own logic and that our business choices are not entirely rational.

All the while, we try to give the impression that we act analytically, logically, and rationally. Modern brain research allows us to study how emotions play a far more central role in the choices we make than we previously thought.

Is your IQ a limitation or a resource?

EQ and SQ (sentience quotient) are somewhat diffuse terms. However, these terms can be broken down to intuition, compassion, empathy, self-awareness, social skills, the ability to control and self-control, and our understanding of others.

In writing this article, I contacted one of the leading recruiters in Denmark, and he told me that they test the EQ of all their recruits regularly. They often refrain from hiring candidates with the highest IQ scores for the simple reason that they are often difficult to work with and do not interact positively with other people. Basically, he finds that managers who understand themselves and are in tune with their emotional states are often the ones who understand others well. We are all born with a certain temperament that affects our EQ. Fortunately, everyone can improve their EQ, unlike IQ, which is innate. Because your EQ changes throughout your life, you should test yourself regularly.

A mini test can contain these questions:

  • Is your temper high or low?
  • Are you quick-tempered, or do you rarely get angry?
  • Do you express what you feel quickly, or not at all?
  • Do you hold a grudge for a long time, or do you move on quickly?

Your answers could indicate your ability to observe, learn from, and control your emotions. However, you should avoid having too much self-control that you lose your authenticity.

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Four important qualities

Do you see yourself as a person with a high EQ? In my experience, you should have these four important qualities for you to have a high EQ:

  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Courage
  • Immersion

The important aspect of developing a high EQ is accepting that you cannot obtain it by studying. You have to go out and practice and not be afraid of making mistakes. You have to practice and evaluate your initiatives and abilities continuously. Working on your EQ is a lifelong process with a finish line, and since you have to work with many different types of people, you have to develop your EQ and SQ constantly.

You need to continuously develop the following:

  • Your social competences
  • Your attitude toward other people
  • Your comfort zone
  • Your attitude toward yourself

Constantly you face new problems, new relationships, new technology, etc. The question is how you cope with these changes. Your reaction is nothing but a learned habit that you have chosen to live with!

So the next time you consider signing up for a technical course to strengthen your profile, you should reconsider. Perhaps you should spend your time nurturing your customers, your network, or your ability to enter into trusting relationships? This investment offers a better return than focusing only on developing your professional skills. So the next time you meet another person, make an effort to be interesting and interested because it will take you farther than handing out professional terms and buzzwords.

Good luck with your EQ—keep in mind that it is more important than your IQ.


“From IQ to EQ” is an article series edited from Soulaima Gourani’s article New Trends in Human Resources – From IQ to EQ. The original copy of the article can be found here.

Soulaima Gourani is a Danish speaker, author, board member and special adviser to ministers, task forces, goverment think tanks and demanding private companies. She was also one of the speakers of Nordic Business Forum 2014. More about Soulaima at www.soulaima.com.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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