Leaders need to be more than just intelligent – especially in today’s business environment. Increasingly businesses are looking for individuals that have the right level of Emotional Intelligence to allow them to interact with others effectively. However, this isn’t as easy to detect as intellect. Redgrave Partners is an international, multi-discipline, executive search firm which delivers exceptional leadership and human capital solutions by thinking beyond the conventional parameters of the industry. Its consultants talk about identifying more than just IQ in executives…


How can you identify EQ in candidates? How important is it?


Is EQ something technology can detect or does it require a human touch?


Are clients open to individuals with high EQ but potentially an incomplete amount of experience or would they prefer all the necessary experience? Can you find both?


How can EQ be balanced across top level teams where it is missing in individuals?



David: Emotional Quotient, or EQ, is the measure of an individual’s capability to succeed in their human interaction with others, especially in areas such as empathy, self-awareness and being sensitive to others. Spotting levels of EQ in candidates is, on the surface, relatively straightforward. The way someone behaves, communicates, listens, and uses body language and eye contact to build rapport and empathy are all good indicators of EQ. However, many successful people, especially those without naturally high levels of EQ, train themselves to adopt these traits. Looking beyond surface level EQ is one area where we can add real value to clients through our interviewing processes.

Matthew: Study after study has linked EQ with career success, with those with higher levels of EQ typically outperforming their peer group. Hence, in many ways, EQ is extremely important. However, there is no optimal combination of EQ and IQ that we can apply when assessing people, as each role and each client require a unique mix of the two.

Interestingly, spotting high levels of natural EQ in people is very challenging for interviewers who lack EQ themselves, especially when trying to look beyond the surface level behaviours.

At Redgrave, we use a proven set of detailed interview questions, developed over a number of years, to help us probe deeper into an individual’s character and leadership style. Combining this approach with extensive informal reference taking and third-party sourcing, helps us move beyond signs of superficial EQ to establish a more valuable picture of how someone behaves.

David: Where appropriate, we use a variety of psychometric testing and behavioural profiling during searches. Whilst the results certainly help us form an overall evaluation of a candidate’s EQ levels, testing for EQ tends to be far less conclusive than testing for IQ.

Another other factor to bear in mind with EQ is that it is relatively easy for an individual to improve their levels of EQ if they are motivated to do so. I know a large number of extremely talented people who have needed to work extremely hard to develop their levels of EQ as their careers have advanced. Most great leaders have high levels of self-awareness, are good at self-regulating and remaining calm under pressure and they also tend to be great at using empathy to manage relationships even if some of these behaviours have been learned!

Matthew: I have always found that assessing EQ is one area when nothing beats the human touch. In face to face interviews you have the ideal platform to judge how someone makes you feel when spending time with them in a professional capacity. In my experience, most people struggle to maintain a ‘manufactured’ version of their true personality throughout a lengthy interview, especially when faced with detailed questions around leadership, management and relationships with others.

With regards to technology, I echo David’s thoughts that testing really helps to produce a rounded evaluation of a candidate’s capability. In addition, technology in the form of social media can also be a useful tool. The reason for this is that people often feel more comfortable being ‘themselves’ when communicating or commenting on through social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Occasionally, even a basic assessment of someone’s online activity and profile can be very revealing, especially in relation to levels self-awareness, empathy and judgement.

Matthew: High levels of EQ are vital to be successful in most leadership roles and therefore almost always a key requirement for our clients. The priority given to possession of high levels of EQ does fluctuate depending on the function we are recruiting for. However, as most of our searches involve board and senior leadership level hires, a lack of EQ will almost inevitably limit the long term potential of an individual, thereby making them a less compelling proposition.

Where we partner with ‘blue chip’ organisations, helping them hire future business leaders at C-1 level, we often find that people with a strong cultural fit and high levels of IQ and EQ but lacking some of the relevant experience are frequently hired over other individuals with the ‘perfect’ background, if there are concerns over style, behaviour or future potential.

David: I agree. Finding those individuals who tick both boxes should be the starting point for any search but where a compromise needs to be found it is usually wise to be flexible regarding experience as opposed to EQ.

As Redgrave Partners recruits across most corporate functions we are fully aware that EQ is less important in some roles than others. For example, in an instance where exceptional technical capability is required or with a role with a lower necessity to develop strong working relationships with colleagues, we will invest less time in assessing an individual’s level of EQ. However, time and time again, in competitive recruitment processes we see those individuals with higher levels of EQ performing better than those with other strengths.

David: This is a fascinating area and one that divides opinion. In my opinion, Boards and senior leadership teams are often at their most effective when they operate with a healthy mix of function and dysfunction! Encouraging genuine intellectual and emotional debate, considering the widest possible array of perspectives and fostering an environment where individuals feel free to contribute and challenge their peers can lead to an extremely effective dynamic. In such a scenario it can be beneficial to have a team with mixed combinations of EQ, IQ and experience.

Fortunately, many executive boards are naturally diverse with regard to EQ, especially where a healthy cross-section of functional leaders are involved. This can limit the need to make specific efforts to ‘balance’ EQ across a team.

Matthew: In many ways it is the responsibility of the Chairman or CEO to ensure that their team’s diversity covers EQ as well as other more traditional criteria.

At board level, EQ diversity can be created by hiring NEDs who bring the ‘missing’ capabilities. At board minus one, however, this is a less straightforward scenario to resolve, one where the best response is usually to ensure that the ‘leader’ has exceptional levels of EQ themselves.

Interestingly, despite the tendency for most great leaders to possess high levels of EQ, there are many high-profile examples of where this is not the case. As it is rare for people with exceptionally high levels of IQ to have similar levels of EQ, it is not that surprising that many large-scale businesses, especially those led by unusually intelligent founders, find it necessary to build leadership teams with above average levels of EQ, by way of compensation.

Although people generally acknowledge that a high level of EQ is usually a good indicator of leadership potential, there is an increasingly popular school of thought the situation is more complex as people near CEO level. Whilst successful ‘middle-managers’ will almost always have high levels of EQ, there is some evidence that EQ actually erodes on the journey from middle-management to CEO.

The main reason for this may well be related to the widely acknowledged loneliness that comes with being at the ‘top’. CEO’s often mix with a relatively small group of colleagues and can find themselves making less effort investing in meaningful interactions with a healthy cross-section of employees, thereby losing sight of how their behaviour, thinking and style impacts on those around them.

It is critical that your search partner is adept at assessing the levels of EQ of people they interview. Without this ability it can be a challenge to build a truly relevant shortlist for any CEO search. However, perhaps it is even more important when hiring at the next level down, as those people intended to be your future leaders, need to have even higher levels of EQ - just in case they lose some of that magic on their way to the top!

About Redgrave Partners

Redgrave is an executive search firm which delivers leadership and human capital solutions by thinking beyond the conventional parameters of the industry. Clients range from FTSE100 companies to private equity backed entities. They have built long-term relationships with an enviable list of key clients which includes many employee brands.

Redgrave Partners