How Great Leaders Judge Emotional Intelligence


Emotional intelligence has become a commonly used buzz-word in the business world.

In fact, studies and research have even proved that it’s one of the most powerful indicators of success. Put simply, people who can recognise and control their emotions better – as well as do the same with others – are much more likely to be successful.

Being able to maintain enthusiasm for the sale after a severe client rejection. The ability to stay calm under intense pressure. Not taking out your frustration or anger out on co-workers (yep, that’s right, even in a crisis).

The problem is, in an interview situation these things are very hard to judge. In fact, in over a decade as a recruiter I commonly see companies hire apparently “super star” candidates, only to become bitterly disappointed at their lack of emotional intelligence or ability to co-operate well with others.

In short, emotional intelligence is crucial to judge, but hard to do so. It requires practice, patience and looking at the interview process in a different way.

But the rewards are well worth it.

Here are some ways how great leaders judge emotional intelligence.

They challenge candidates during the process

By it’s sheer nature, emotional intelligence truly comes to the surface during times of adversity and pressure.

And since business can often be a high-stress, high-stakes affair it’s no wonder that keeping your emotions under control and using them in the best manner is so critical when it comes to achieving your best.

Although it’s obviously important to make candidates feel comfortable and welcome during an interview process, simply having friendly and easy conversation isn’t always the best in judging emotional intelligence.

In fact, often cranking up the pressure and challenging them can be a much more effective approach.

It’s why large organisations often ask the classic on-the-spot questions such as “if you were an animal what would you be?”. Or why the candidates on The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den are consistently grilled on minor details. It’s not really to see if the candidate can come up with the perfect answer; it’s more to see their emotional reaction and how they try to maintain rapport through the answer.

Exploring emotional intelligence through challenging questions is a powerful tool that many good leaders use when assessing others. The key is to be challenging without being rude or offensive. Which ironically means having good emotional intelligence as an interviewer yourself :)

Great leaders ask challenging questions.

They measure it!

The history of business has taught us a key lesson when it comes to implementing change and encouraging improvement:

If you want to drive positive change you have to measure it.

Not encourage it. Not ask for it. But measure it and insist on it.

For example, companies have wanted women on boards for decades – but it’s only recently since quota’s have been introduced that this is starting to happen. The whole world has wanted bankers to “act responsibly” for years – but only introducing regulation and heavy penalties for unwanted behaviour has there finally been a change.

Most hiring managers know emotional intelligence is important. But without proactively trying to assess and measure it, it’s often overlooked for more “quantifiable” things – years of experience, technical experience or industry knowledge.

Thus leaving emotional intelligence as simply an ideology that you read about in HBR.

When it comes to people, the most advanced thinking organisations are starting to realise the value of emotional intelligence and putting high on their list when it comes to judging performance. Whether it is 360 reviews, annual appraisals or  leadership assessments, it’s essential that emotional intelligence is constantly being re-enforced and assessed by management.

It’s not all about numbers, targets and deadlines.

Sometimes, the person who sells less but galvanizes the rest of the team can be just as important.

To encourage a change, it’s important to measure.

They look for powerful relationship builders

But perhaps one of the most powerful and overlooked ways of measuring another’s emotional intelligence is something that is relatively simple to do.

Focus on people who are powerful relationship builders.

You see, people who have higher levels of emotional intelligence are much more likely to get on well with others. They’ll be much more fun to be around for a start. They’re also much more likely to be aware of other people’s emotions and thus behave and act more suitably. Also, by being more emotionally intelligent they’re more likely to perform better under pressure and thus gain the respect and support of others.

Just to be clear however, being a powerful relationship builder doesn’t simply mean knowing lots of people or having a huge rolodex. We all know examples of people who seem to network with everyone but are less emotionally intelligent than a coconut. The key is having strong, value based relationships – even it’s with just a few colleagues. By demonstrating the ability to build powerful collaborations, candidates demonstrate a harmonious attitude which is often a good indicator of emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence results in powerful relationships.


Positive emotions drive positive actions.

Negative emotions drive negative actions.

It’s no wonder therefore that emotional intelligence is so important.

Great leaders don’t just understand the importance of emotional intelligence, they insist on making it an integral part of their assessment process. By doing so, they build teams that the competition can only dream of.

How high is your emotional intelligence?

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