The Business Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

Imagine that you are the Air Force general responsible for recruitment. Turnover among your recruiters is 50% every year! It costs the Air Force $30,000 every time you must replace someone. You must stop the loss.

You attend a party. A businessman chats with you about emotional intelligence (EI). He says it includes the skills that people use to manage their relationships, and says that these skills can determine success or failure. At first it sounds like psychobabble - the newest fad. But he says, “No. EI has been undergoing serious academic and business research for the past 15 to 20 years. This is no fad. In fact, it’s helped my company.” You bring up your problem with recruiters. Your new friend asks: “What skills do recruiters need, beyond knowledge of the Air Force, to convince high quality people to join?” You must confess that you’re not sure.

You decide to look into EI. To identify the skills of successful recruiting, you develop a competency model. You figure that people who are good at what they do are more likely to stay on in the job. People rarely stick with jobs that make them feel incompetent. You select a scientifically validated instrument that measures 15 separate EI skills. You give it to 1,171 recruiters around the world and compare their scores with their performance.

Five skills are found to separate strong performers from weak ones: assertiveness, empathy, happiness, self-awareness, and problem solving. Recruiters who show strength in these 5 categories are 2.7 times more likely to be successful than those who do not.

Why are these skills associated with success? Assertive recruiters, like most good salespeople, are able to express their ideas confidently. Empathy allows recruiters to read candidates’ emotions and adjust the presentation appropriately. Self Awareness, knowing our own feelings, is the foundation for empathy because understanding what others are feeling is partly accomplished by comparing others’ experience with our own. Happiness matters because people are drawn to happy people and are more likely to listen to their message. Problem Solving - many candidates have problems that could keep them from joining the Air Force. As recruiters solve those problems, entry into the service is facilitated.

With knowledge of key recruiting competencies, you begin to select recruiters who are already strong in these skills. Simultaneously, you orient your training program to develop these skills among recruiters already on staff. (The good news is that all elements of emotional intelligence are skills that can be developed.) Training will allow you to keep many of your current recruiters who might otherwise fail and leave.

Using careful recruitment and excellent training, you increase the fit between job needs and recruiters’ skills. As a result, your recruiter retention rate goes from 50% to 96% in one year. $2.7 million is saved. Too good to be true? In real life, that is exactly what happened in the Air Force, beginning in 1996.

Let’s think about your situation, just in case you are not actually an Air Force general. Like the Air Force, you can use EI to help you recruit, select, and train employees. EI includes skills related to managing such issues as motivation and self control, as well as skills involved in managing our relationships with others. Therefore, EI will be particularly relevant for positions in your company that require people to be self motivated and those that require employees to influence others. Such jobs include all leadership and management positions, sales positions, and customer service staff. (A caveat: the particular components of EI that will matter in various positions in your company may be different from those that mattered most for recruiters.)

Now consider development and succession planning. You may have talented middle level managers with the potential to move up. To help focus their development, identify the components of EI that matter most in the top positions in your company. Measure those whom you want to groom, to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Then you can structure their training and future assignments, including stretch assignments, to give them opportunities to develop their weaker areas.

EI can also be used to develop high performance teams. This may be a special purpose team within your company, or, if you have a small company, such as a law firm or accounting practice, you may want to develop your entire firm. High performance teamwork requires skillful interpersonal cooperation and collaboration, some of the key elements of EI. Leaders of a struggling marketing company that I worked with had everyone take a well validated measure of EI. When all scores were averaged, they found that the company as a whole was weak in three skills central to their business: self-awareness, empathy, and interpersonal relationship skills. This explained many of the barriers to the company’s success. Action was taken to build these skills. The result was a significant improvement in company performance.

You may worry that training people in the skills that comprise EI involves trying to make wholesale changes in personality. That would be hopeless. However, the skills that comprise EI are at the tactical levels of our personality. Make the analogy with your business organization. Your mission, vision and values are your identity. Strategies are the main ways you achieve that identity. Tactics are the day to day things you do to make your strategies work. The skills of EI are at the tactical level of our personality. While changing your business tactics is not easy, it can be done. The same is true for changing the tactics we use in managing ourselves and our relationships with others.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc.,, which focuses on helping companies align employee skills and efforts with the company’s strategic plan. He can be reached at (540) 774-1927, or by e-mail at

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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