A few years ago, I observed a new IT executive snap at his lead technical architect about what did not seem to be a major transgression. Later in the day, I witnessed an even more aggressive and public criticism of a project manager during a quarterly program review. I can still see the embarrassment and devastation in the project manager’s eyes. More importantly, the silence in the room screamed of the intimidation felt by everyone present.  
I pulled him aside in private after the meeting and asked if everything was okay. He was a smart guy with a career built on his technical prowess. I did not know him well, so I wanted to see if I could be of help and give him the benefit of my understanding. You can only imagine my surprise when he replied in a cheerful tone that everything was great. I did not let it go. My reply was something to the order of “Really?” 

Upon further conversation, I came to understand that his gruffness was a purposeful put on. How would his team respect him if he was “nice?” In his mind, they would see him as a pushover. When in fact, his team lived in fear of his outbursts.  

In the beginning, his blustering behavior appeared to be working for him in the eyes of his leadership. After all, his reputation was built on innovative solutions and delivery of his commitments. It took poor employee engagement ratings and high turnover before the organization recognized his behavior as toxic. Fortunately, they provided him executive coaching, and he was astute enough to realize the need to change. 

This was certainly a rare worst-case scenario. Or was it?  

Picture this; it may bring the answer to life:  Do you know of any highly intelligent, very technical person who isn’t socially adept and stuck in their career? A lack of EQ is often the reason you find many people with advanced degrees struggling to move up the ranks on the job. 

How is Emotional Intelligence related to my IQ?

In straightforward terms, your IQ is what you know. It is an assessment of your cognitive skills such as literacy, numeracy (yes is a word, I looked it up), and spatial awareness. It is easy to recognize someone with a high IQ by their language, mathematical, and analytical skills.

EI is your ability to manage your emotions and reaction to other people. EI is about how you feel and how others feel about you. It is that soft squishy stuff many IT professionals would prefer to avoid.

Until these wonderfully technically intelligent team members recognize the limiting factors of a low EI, they may never see the need or want to improve.

Part of the challenge with understanding EI is that it is a modern concept. The original theory of emotional intelligence as identified in the early 1990s by two American Psychologists, Peter Solovey and John Mayer defined it as a learned ability to perceive, understand, and express our feelings and to control our emotions so that they work for us.

The concepts were further expanded and popularized by David Golemen1 in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. In his best-seller, he writes that Emotional Intelligence:

“refers to the capacity for recognizing our own feeling and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” 

Since then dozens of books, TedTalks, and YouTube videos have been published on the subject of EI. The bottom line is that knowledge of Emotional Intelligence enables you to identify what feels good and what needs to change. Maintaining and developing emotional awareness and sensitivity helps you to stay positive. Positive attitudes result in a much higher level of motivation for yourself and others.

How does Emotional Intelligence impact my career?  

Unless you are in a position of never having to interact with other people, weaknesses in your emotional intelligence can seriously harm your career. It most certainly will hamper your career progression.

Center for Creative Leadership research confirms the most common causes of career derailment are predictable: 

  • Difficulty adapting to change (the most frequent cause of derailment)
  • Difficulty building and leading a team
  • Failure to deliver business results
  • Lacking a broad, strategic orientation
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships

Another study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that as much as 80% of the reason careers are derailed was due to weaknesses in Emotional Intelligence. Their study found that the three primary reasons for career failure were; poor interpersonal skills (e.g. oral and written communication, listening), not being a good team player (e.g. non-collaborative, loner) and not adaptive to change (i.e. at best resists, at worst sabotages change initiatives).

Both studies point back to EI characteristics.

To bring this to life, take a moment to reflect on a manager, leader, or peer who you believe to be successful.  What qualities do they possess that you think helped contribute to their success? Then take a moment to reflect on the managers, leaders, and peers that you have avoided. It should not be hard for you to find the contrasts.

If you have high levels of EI, average intellectual abilities, and excellent technical skills, you are well placed for career success. Good indicators of career success are:

  • Ability to manage your reaction to frustrations
  • Ability to deal with a diverse range of issues
  • Ability to manage your own emotions
  • Ability to manage your social skills.
    NOTE: EI refers to managing your own emotions, not the feelings or behaviors of those around you.

Nearly all jobs require people to work together effectively. Employees with high emotional intelligence are highly sought after. The most effective IT managers are those with high emotional intelligence, despite average or less than average technical skills or intellect.

Can Emotional Intelligence be learned? 

Yes, the good news is that anyone can grow and develop their EQ through learning and practicing. With conscience focus, our EQ will change the more we build understanding of our feelings and emotions. One of the neat things about humans is that working to change our attitudes changes our emotions as well. How we reacted to a situation 3, 5 or 10 years ago will be very different from how we react today. Think about a negative situation in your past, name the emotions felt and the resulting outcome. How would you have felt or reacted if it was happening today? Have the emotions changed?

There are self-improvements tactics you can take to evolve your EQ. The first step is a solid mindset that you need and want to build your EQ. Mindset is part belief and part attitude. A mindset refers to whether you believe qualities such as intelligence and talent are fixed or changeable traits. You either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe their qualities and capabilities are fixed and unchangeable. Those with a growth mindset believe that their capabilities can be developed and strengthened by way of hard work, practice and commitment. I firmly believe that you grow your EQ if you adopt a growth mindset. Changing your mindset takes work. Often, it also takes help from a coach or an event that triggers the possibilities.

Once you know and want to change, an excellent first step is to keep a journal to record and enable you to reflect on your experience. Reflecting and consistently recording raises your self-awareness resulting in improvements to your self-management and productive behaviors.

You should also actively seek unbiased and candid feedback. You could start with a trusted colleague or a close friend. Depending on your relationship, your life partner can also be a great best accountability partner.

Honest and candid feedback will help you to identify and see blind spots that may have been the root cause of your challenges in the past. You can also work with a coach to set goals for improving your Emotional Intelligence and receive ongoing support as you make progress.

In Closing

I knew going into this article that the most I could do was to introduce you to the importance of EI as an IT professional with the hopes of inspiring you to learn more. If I have not inspired you enough, I leave you with a quote from Emotional Intelligence by David Goleman:

“People with well-developed emotional skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.”

Improving your Emotional Intelligence is a gratifying process. It takes patience and commitment to change. It is a personal investment that will transform your career and quality of life outside of work. I promise.

Until next time – I am here if you want to talk.


Mary Patry
IT Executive Advisor and Leadership Coach  
 480.393.0722 (AZ)
LinkedIn: Linkedin.com/in/mleonardopatry 

Let’s Talk sponsored by ITeffectivity.com an IT Executive Coaching and Advisory practice targeting CIO’s challenge of leading and delivering business solutions with a focus on effective people and process capabilities. Discover the possibilities by scheduling a complimentary strategy session with Mary Patry.