A Key Distinguisher Between Average & Outstanding Employee Performance

Big Think Edge | February 27, 2018

What is it that separates an average-performing employee from a truly exceptional employee? While there are many things that can set one employee apart from the rest in terms of employee performance, one thing that psychologist and author Daniel Goleman says separates the average employees from the extraordinary employees is their emotional intelligence, or EQ.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

As Goleman points out in his “Introducing Emotional Intelligence” video on Big Think, emotional intelligence is:

“How well we handle ourselves and our relationships, the 4 domains. Self-awareness, knowing what we’re feeling, why we’re feeling it, which is a basis of, for example, good intuition, good decision-making. Also, it’s a moral compass. Say, in part, is self-management, which means handling your distressing emotions in effective ways so that they don’t cripple you, they don’t get in the way of what you’re doing, and yet, attuning them… to them when you need to so that you learn what you must. Every emotion has a function. Also, [marshalling] positive emotions, getting ourselves, you know, involved, enthused about what we’re doing, aligning our actions with our passions. The third is empathy, knowing what someone else is feeling. And the fourth is putting that all together in skilled relationship. So that’s what I mean by emotional intelligence.”

In other words, EQ is the ability to objectively assess one’s own emotional state, avoid becoming emotionally compromised, being attentive to the emotional states of others, and being able to use all of this to skillfully build relationships with others.

However, unlike intelligence quotient (IQ), it does not purport to measure a fixed quantity about a person. People can work on their emotional intelligence and become better at the four pillars of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Why EQ Matters

Over the years, Goleman’s research has shown that emotional intelligence outperforms IQ as a predictor of future success for employees.

Why is this?

One potential reason is the existence of a ceiling effect on IQ in specific roles. While one might assume that having a higher than average IQ would provide advantages in creativity, reasoning skills, etc., the thing is that some jobs tend to bias towards above-average IQs. For example, software engineers tend to have, as noted by Goleman, IQs of 115 or higher, which is a notch above average.

If IQs remain largely stable within a profession, other elements must account for the success of employees. EQ is a factor that tends to vary greatly between individuals in a profession, and has been shown to correlate more strongly with success.

Emotional intelligence also happens to correspond to many skills that are crucial for long-term success in almost any position, including:

  • Perseverance — not being brought low by a single setback;
  • Social perception — being able to understand and empathize with others;
  • Communication — the ability to talk with and understand others clearly and concisely;
  • Persuasion — being able to convince others to follow a course of action or cooperate; and
  • Cooperation — the willingness and ability to effectively work with others for the good of the team.

Regardless of how talented and skilled an employee may be, if they cannot communicate, persuade, or cooperate with others, they will not be a successful member of the team. In fact, the higher one climbs the organizational ladder, the more important emotional intelligence becomes — because leaders are expected to work effectively with others all the time.

As Goleman points out in a Big Think video on corporate emotional intelligence as it relates to ecological sustainability initiatives:

“What it takes to lead sustainability in a company, particularly in a climate where you need to make a hard business case but you also need to persuade people that this is even worth doing. And what we’re finding is that there’s a subset of emotional intelligent scales that typifies people who actually can take a company in that direction as a head of a division or so on.”

To effectively lead others and meet long-term goals (such as improving sustainability), leaders need to be able to influence others and get them to commit to a course of action. Without the ability to understand and engage with others on an emotional level, leaders are not as effective at producing results for the organization as a whole.

Building Emotional Intelligence

One of the key things to remember about emotional intelligence is that it isn’t a fixed statistic. It’s a skill like any other — meaning that it can be improved on with practice.

Employees can practice emotional intelligence in several ways, including:

  1. Workshops and Roleplay Sessions. Employees can participate in workshops and roleplay activities such as the “I am, but I am not” and the perspective-taking activities described in the “Best Diversity Activities” post on the Big Think Edge blog. These types of activities help improve not only social awareness of others, but self-awareness by making participants confront their own thoughts and feelings.
  2. Everyday Group Work. Many employees can practice their emotional intelligence skills simply by working closely together on an important project. People in a group working towards a common goal will passively work their EQ “muscles” by engaging in close communication and trying to collaborate with one another.
  3. Watching Webinars and Lectures from EQ Experts. Short-form online videos featuring lessons from experts in either the theory of EQ or who apply it to influence others and lead their organizations to success can be helpful for making employees aware of the importance of emotional intelligence and what it consists of. When the lesson comes from a well-known and highly-regarded face in the industry, these lessons are more likely to stick with learners.

These are a few of the ways that people in your organization can build up their emotional intelligence and boost employee performance.

Need help growing the EQ of your organization’s members? Get a demo of Big Think Edge today and check out the Purpose series of videos for more information on emotional intelligence and other issues that impact employee engagement and drive!


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