Like the debate on whether leaders are born or made, an early debate in the emerging Emotional Intelligence research was whether our EQ, like IQ, is fixed once we hit adulthood. The debate is over and the verdict is in: like building leadership or other forms of expertise, we can improve our EQ at any time in our lives. In one study at Case Western Reserve University, Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) students were given Emotional Intelligence training (not a normal part of most very analytical M.B.A. programs). In follow-up studies for years after the program, some students had raised their EQ scores 40 percent!
In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis write about “an important lesson from neuroscience: Because our behavior creates and develops neural networks, we are not necessarily prisoners of our genes and our early childhood experiences. Leaders can change if … they are ready to put in the effort.”
Richard Boyatzis is professor and chair of the department of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University. He says it’s not a lack of ability to change but an issue of motivation. He likens this leadership development issue to treatments for alcoholism, drug addiction, and weight loss: “They all require the desire to change. More subtly, they all require a positive, rather than a negative, motivation. You have to want to change.”
Many EI coaches have found that self-awareness is a key first step on the stairway to boosting our Emotional Intelligence. Howard Book, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, suggests, “One simple way to measure your self-awareness is to ask a trusted friend or colleague to draw up a list of your strengths and weaknesses while you do the same. It can be an uncomfortable exercise, but the bigger the gap between your list and your helper’s, the more work you probably have to do.”
Science is showing us — once again — that when it comes to developing the “soft skills” of leadership and EI, where there’s a will, there’s a way. We can smarten up!