What Makes a Great Leader? – The Hidden Power of EQ & SQ

Many of us are wondering what makes a truly great leader in today’s ever-changing work, social and political environments. It’s easy to frequently ask that question when we see well-chronicled evidence of the wide spectrum of leadership capacity today – from lousy to great.

We in the leadership development field have in the past asked ourselves whether it is the competency, education, particular skills or training that differentiate the great from the weak leader. In recent years we have assumed it takes a skillful combination of mentoring, coaching, and learning to create the secret sauce of great leadership. While these elements are clearly part of the mix, they don’t completely answer the fundamental question: “What Makes a Great Leader”?

One of my virtual mentors, Daniel Goleman, a LinkedIn Influencer and Thought Leader, is the author of many books that are relevant to leadership development, most notably his groundbreaking 1995 book Emotional Intelligence which launched the practice of emotional intelligence development in organizations. Goleman has a clear answer on what it takes to be a great leader. He asserts that it takes both Emotional and Social Intelligence.

This statement is both simple and powerful. As I pondered this, I connected the dots around what has helped me to be more effective leadership coach and consultant with highly diverse global clients.

I have learned that today, leadership is more than ever about the development of others. Others who will not be just followers of a strong leader, but leaders in their own right. To do this requires high levels of both emotional and social intelligence. The attitude and aptitude to work in this way are what makes us a winner! (aka “great leader”).

Key Elements of Great Leadership

  1. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – Thanks to Goleman and many other researchers in the field, it is now well established that emotional intelligence comprises a powerful skill set that assists us to effectively self-regulate our emotions through self-knowledge, awareness, motivation, social skills, and empathy. Emotional intelligence is both personal and interpersonal.

It is because of this blend of skills that EQ has been widely studied and shown to be extremely powerful in personal and professional applications. Simply said, leaders with high EQ perform better, as do their organizations, in terms of bottom-line metrics such as sales, customer satisfaction, and ROI, as well as “softer” metrics such as employee engagement and employee well-being.

If we pay close attention, the EQ framework can give us a clear answer on what is going on within us and around us, based both on our behaviors as well as those of others. EQ skills assist us to quickly “read the room,” and recognize the power and importance of relationships, team dynamics, key influencers, and the overall dynamics inside an organization.

Why is EQ is Effective?

Of the many factors that make EQ effective over the long term, it is now understood that leaders who have high EQ skills are more attuned to “HOW” something gets accomplished, in addition to the results of the effort made. This is critical to creating sustained organizational success. If a great outcome arose as a “fluke” or was based on questionable tactics, it’s not sustainable. But a great leader pays attention to “how” something was accomplished to make sure the organization learns from this success and can duplicate it many times.

Also, I have found over the years that EQ can be even more impactful when the skills are well integrated with our intelligence quotient (IQ). Why is this important? IQ help us to answer the “WHAT” of any given task or situation and create strong linear plans for execution. Integrating EQ and IQ is powerful so that a team or organization can repeat the success and has an underlying logic to do so. This is especially important when dealing with complex or challenging situations.

We have now established that high EQ creates an understanding of HOW something gets done well, and IQ brings clarity to WHAT needs to be done. But we still haven’t asked the magical third question: “WHY”. This point has been powerfully described in one of my favorite TED talks, the classic “Golden Circle” by Simon Sinek.

According to Sinek, knowing our big “WHY” is a powerful core motivator, influencing everything we do. It is an essential component of organizational success – particularly for leaders – that drives empathy, inclusiveness, open-mindedness, and team recognition, all of which have been found to be pivotal factors in today’s successful organizations.

Not only do the skills of EQ help us as leaders to work effectively with highly diverse teams and in solving complex issues, but they also help us – through empathy – to harness the real power of each team member.

Through my coaching and mentoring work, in particular through Mindfulness Coaching, I have learned that one of the key personal and professional objectives for many leaders now is further developing empathy in order to reach their EQ capacity, understanding the needs of their people, including all stakeholders, and therefore be a more effective leader.

How Does Social Intelligence Fit In?

Social Intelligence (SQ) is a way of defining the real power and meaning of the human connection. SQ is not only the ability to get along well with others; it is also the capacity to influence and positively impact others. Leaders with high SQ are a testament to how well relationships with a wide range of people can be managed and nurtured.

In Goleman’s newest book, “Wired to Connect,” he eloquently describes how human beings are fundamentally wired to connect with others – it’s an essential trait of our humanness. Through developing SQ, we have an opportunity to develop the following capacities:

  • Conversational or verbal fluency
  • Effective listening
  • Knowledge of social norms
  • Overall people skills.

What I have found is that people who truly, genuinely care about other people are those with high SQ. Why? Often we play multiple social roles beyond our job title or work position. However, these social roles lack explicitly defined social rules. As a result, we have to be able to think and act on our feet as well as to lead authentically due to exposure to a wide range of social norms and expectations.

High SQ leaders know “how to play the game” of managing and guiding a socially important situation. Very quickly they can identify what environments are healthy and growth-oriented versus those that are toxic and limiting. As a result, through highly developed SQ, not only can we become socially/interpersonally astute and wise, but we also become more influential and impactful.

How can we develop and effectively utilize SQ?

It is clear that becoming a great leader requires extra effort and willingness to learn, along with good old-fashioned hard work. As is true with anything worthwhile in life, time and practice are essential.

Nearly all great leaders recognize that some of their most important development breakthroughs occurred when they were thrown into a situation requiring them to innovate or think on their feet, or simply respond to chaos with balance and clarity.

The best way to start on the journey to Great Leadership is by putting ourselves in a new situation NOW where we can further develop our social/emotional skills through effective networking, active listening, and speaking in addition to coaching by experts.

If you enjoyed this post – please share with others as well as comment below. I read and respond to all of your comments and questions.

Leave a legacy, a legacy that matters! Be a legend, your legendary way!


Izabela Lundberg
Izabela Lundberg
As a passionate advocate of lifelong learning and thought leadership, Izabela proudly prides herself and ethically serves as a transformational leader delivering global business advisory, coaching, strategy through leadership and organizational development, and innovative learning High-Performance Impact Method™ framework at Legacy Leaders Institute. By aligning and supporting business growth objectives, she works side by side with executive leaders from Startups to Fortune 500 companies. For more than two decades, Izabela demonstrated a unique ability to identify, create, and deliver solutions to complex global business challenges with her unique perspective. As a result, she successfully increased talent and team engagement, performance, revenues, and overall organizational impact in dozens of selected companies. Today, Izabela helps talent and teams come together to accomplish more than ever before with her progressive solutions and worldview (living in six countries, speaking six languages, traveling to over 45 countries, and working with diverse teams from over 100 countries). Besides, Izabela earned a Master of Science in Leadership and Organization from the University of Denver with a focus on Strategic Innovation & Change and Organizational Development & Training. She is #1 International Best Selling author and her book, The World Messenger, that is highly respected by academics, athletes, and business leaders worldwide. To receive a signed copy, go to right NOW! Need to speak with Izabela right of way? Follow & Connect with Izabela on LinkedIn and email her at [email protected]. Game On, Champions!

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  1. When doing presentations and writing influential materials I find that one must balance the rhetoric with the right data, positioning both in the correct context. Rhetoric heavily relies on EQ. Data taken in context relies heavily on IQ.