In 1990, psychologists Peter Salovey at Yale and John Mayer at the University of New Hampshire introduced the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ). More than two decades later today, EQ is taught widely in secondary schools, medical schools and business schools because it is an essential component for performance at work and overall success in life.
Some of the most distinguished individuals in history are celebrated because of their great emotional intelligence. Take Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. When he delivered his famous speech about his dream for America, he chose language that would tug at the hearts of people and stir emotions.
“America has given the Negro people a bad check,” King thundered, However, this land, “sweltering with the heat of oppression,” could be “transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice,” he said. King dreamed of a future in which “on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Delivering this electrifying speech required emotional intelligence—an ability to recognize, arouse, and manage passions and emotions. Dr. King’s speech became one of the most powerful in history because he managed his own feelings magnificently and aroused the emotions of multitudes, prompting them into action. As his speechwriter Clarence Jones writes in the book Behind the Dream, King delivered “a perfectly balanced outcry of reason and emotion, of anger and hope. His tone of pained indignation matched that note for note.”
When you are even a fraction of this good at controlling your own emotions, you can easily disguise your true feelings if you wanted to. When you know how to arouse people’s passions, you can tug at their heartstrings and incite them to act against their own best interests.
As you can deduce, being emotionally intelligent and able to read people, to stir up emotions can be used for good or evil.
The dark side of emotional intelligence
When people have self-serving motives, EQ can be a weapon for manipulating others. This statement is true in our personal lives as it is in our professional lives. From a leadership perspective, this fact becomes clear when you juxtapose Dr King and another highly influential leader of the 20th century who spent years studying the emotional effects of his body language.
Tirelessly rehearsing his speeches, practicing his hand gestures, and analyzing images of his overall body movements on stage allowed him to become “an absolutely spellbinding public speaker,” says historian Roger Moorhouse—“it was something he worked very hard on.”
This man was Adolf Hitler.
One observer noted that Hitler’s persuasive impact came from his ability to strategically express emotions. He would “tear open his heart”. These emotions affected his followers to the point that they would “stop thinking critically and just emote.”
In light of these two opposite extremes, you can see why it is important that we stop assuming emotional intelligence is always good. We need to recognize that EQ is “morally neutral” – which is something we already know at a subliminal level, especially in today’s society full of phony fads, media hype, and personal brands.
Besides, people don’t usually accept demonstrations of emotional intelligence at face value anyways. We want to know that what you are saying or doing is genuine. In other words, we want to know that your emotions and actions are authentic. EQ alone doesn’t guarantee you will succeed. You also need to be genuine to be truly successful.
Genuine people ultimately triumph
According to a study from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington led by Christina Fong, sincere leaders are far more effective at motivating people because they inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words. Many leaders say that authenticity is important to them, but genuine leaders walk their talk every day.
In case you’re wondering, “genuine” means actual, real, honest and sincere. Genuine people are pretty much the same on the inside as their behavior is on the outside.
Unfortunately, it’s tough to discern whether someone is genuine. However, you can always do a quick check to identify this rare quality – in yourself, as well as in others – by comparing projected ideas or behavior with that of people who are highly genuine.
1. They are consistent.
Since they are in touch with their true emotions and have no real need to pretend, genuine people are predictable… in a good way. What you see is more or less what you get.
2. They don’t tend to exaggerate or overreach.
They are honest and straightforward. They won’t parse their words or sugarcoat the truth.
3. They practice what they preach.
They are not likely to advise people to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. They actually tend to lead by example.
4. They are not boastful.
Exhibiting pompous and elevated airs is a charade. Genuine people are humble and have no desire to brag about their abilities and or strengths.
5. They are not overly modest.
Just because they are humble doesn’t mean they are timid. Genuine people are real. They don’t exhibit false modesty.
6. They are not thin-skinned.
They don’t take themselves too seriously. That means genuine people don’t take offense when none is intended.
7. They forge their own paths.
They don’t follow others blindly, nor do they derive their sense of worth, pleasure or satisfaction from the opinions of others. Genuine people create their own way.
Ultimately, a genuine person is his or her own person—true to themselves. This honesty is one of the key ingredient for success. Nobody wants to work or hang out with a phony. Authenticity is what qualifies EQ.