Critical Evaluation of the Theory of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

Term Paper, 2014

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Abstract: Emotional Intelligence is a relatively new model that is as popular as it is controversial. This paper gives a short overview over the different definitions, models and measurements with supporting as well as critical opinions. Hereafter, the usage of the concept in the leadership theory is explained. The essay then continues to appraise the practical application of Emotional Intelligence. It concludes by pointing out, that Emotional Intelligence is a concept with a lot of potential. However, it is still only very vaguely defined which makes it difficult to use in an academic way and shows the need for more well crafted research to lift the concept from the popular scientific level to scientific and academic credibility.

Keywords: Emotional Intelligence w Leadership w Emotions

In the last 25 years, the widely popular concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI) arose and underwent a lot of development. In the first place, the theory implied, that emotions are not so much a distraction of the intelligent mind (Young, 1943), but help “on the process […], that is, the recognitions und use of one’s own and others emotional states to solve problems and regulate behaviour” (Salovey & Mayer, 1990, p. 189). Furthermore, the right awareness and usage of emotions, as they are described in the theory of EI, are supposed to be a key attribute especially in the development of leadership skills. Thus, EI is supposed to be the indicator to differentiate a decent or sufficing leader from an excellent one (Goleman, 1998).

However, there is still a vivid debate regarding the two different models of EI, which vary in their definitions, dimensions and ways of measuring. Furthermore, Emotional Intelligence is a very controversial theory in terms of its significance as well as the validity of its measurements (Antonakis, Ashkanasy, & Dasborough, 2009).

This paper is going to give a brief overview over EI first, explaining the ‘ability model’ and the ‘mixed model’. It will further go into detail with the corresponding research, both underpinning and critical. Afterwards, the essay is going to explain and evaluate the link between EI and leadership, and it’s practical application. The paper will conclude by showing areas for future development of the theory.

The first concept that defines EI as such was introduced by Salovey and Mayer in 1990. It was an outcome of the discussion about various mental and cognitive abilities other than intelligence itself. However, the theory only gained its popularity after Goleman released his book, Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ (1996), as it did attract the attention of both broad public and researchers. Goleman soon extended his concept on leadership in his Harvard Business Review article What makes a Leader? (1998). Mayer and Salovey on the other hand developed their thoughts to a more precise definition of EI regarding the criteria for an intelligence.

Hence evolved the three models. The Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology (Cherniss, 2004) defined them as followed: (a) the model of Salovey and Mayer, often referred to as ‘ability model’ including “the abilities to accurately perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth."(Salovey, Mayer, & Caruso, 2004, p. 197). The ‘mixed models’ are represented by (b) Goleman (1996;

1998) who adds some competencies and personality traits such as motivation and the handling of relationships to these previous abilities (being aware of one’s emotions, managing emotions and recognising emotions in others) and (c) Bar-On who defines EI as “an array of noncognitive capabilities, competencies, and skills that influence one’s ability to succeed in coping with environmental demands and pressures.“ (1997, p. 14). All three models are not contradicting each other, but complementary and focusing on different angles (Ciarrochi, Chan, & Caputi, 2000). (More details on the specific models can be found in the according publications.)

As there is no single consistent and broadly accepted definition it is problematic to find a consensual way of measuring EI. Therefore, the three models have two different ways of measuring, one is a performance assessment and the other one uses self-report methods. Their validity and reliability vary depending on context, criterion of interest, and theory used. Mayer, Salovey and Caruso (2002; 2003) developed the so-called Mayer-Salovey-Caruso- Emotional-Intelligence-Test (MSCEIT), and they claim that it is a performance measurement similar to and meeting the same criterion as IQ tests in its way of assessing abilities (Bastian, Burns, & Nettelbeck, 2005). It addresses the four components defined by the ability model and gives a total EQ score (Emotional [Intelligence] Quotient). It comprises task performance and emotional problem solving skills (JD Mayer et al., 2003). The reliability of the MSCEIT is very high (JD Mayer et al., 2003). However, the validity is well discussed, as there are researchers (e.g. Antonakis et al., 2009) who doubt its praised validity (Ciarrochi et al., 2000; Côté & Miners, 2006; Farh, Seo, & Tesluk, 2012; JD Mayer et al., 2003). They especially question the construct, discriminant and predictive validity of test (Roberts et al., 2006) and showed that EI can be almost completely predicted by IQ, personality measures like ‘The Big Five’ and the gender (Schulte, Ree, & Carretta, 2004). Other concerns include the inability to measure certain skills like the proper expression of emotions or the ability to behave according to them, as well as the limited appraisal of non-verbal abilities (Brackett, Rivers, & Salovey, 2011; Matthews, Emo, Roberts, & Zeidner, 2006; O’Sullivan & Ekman, 2008). The mixed models are measured by a wide range of self-assessment methods (mainly: Bar- On, 1997; Boyatzis, Goleman, & Rhee, 2000; Schutte et al., 1998). The large number of tests results from the popularity of these questionnaires, as they address to a broader audience then the scientifically more accurate ability/performance approach. However, the main problem of self-assessment methods is, that they assume that people are conscious of their EI and its inner processes and are therefore able to rate and report on it (Brackett et al., 2011; Matthews et al., 2006). According to Matthews et al. (2006) it is only logical that people are not aware of large parts of EI. They might only give answers they perceive to be right. Therefore, both reliability and validity are supposed to be insufficient. Thus, self-report measurements are rejected by a lot of academic writers (Antonakis et al., 2009; Antonakis, 2004; Matthews et al., 2006; Mayer, Roberts, & Barsade, 2008).

With the various models come various complications. Still, there is no clear norm of how to decide which attributes are part of EI and which are not. This becomes apparent when remembering the different models. Second, the constructs are not able to take circumstantial information into account. They can’t differentiate between which competencies are basic competencies and which were learned patterns within specific situations. Finally, there seems to be an underlying acceptance that EI “generalizes across the qualitatively different emotions” (Matthews et al., 2006, p. 8), although neuropsychology shows, that various emotions are independent from each other (Panksepp, 1998). Thus, broadly speaking of ‘high’ or ‘low’ EQ might be too general (all: Matthews et al., 2006).

On the other hand, there is a reason, why the concept(s) of EI is/are so popular: people want and try to understand the conditions that determine how successful a person can and is going to be at the workplace and in life (Cherniss, 2000). A highly agreed measurement of cognitive abilities is the IQ. However, researchers claim, that the IQ alone can only predict job performance to an estimated degree between four and 25 per cent (Cherniss, 2000; Sternberg, 1997; Hunter & Hunter, 1984). Due to that, a big interest emerged in finding other predictors for success, one of which EI is supposed to be. The predictive validity of EI is especially high in regard to excellent leadership (Ciarrochi et al., 2000; Goleman, 1998). Goleman (1998) sees this set of skills as the key to predict outstanding leaders.

Regarding to various researchers, emotionally intelligent leaders are supposed to be more successful (Miller, 1999), use and benefit from optimistic emotions to conceive positive development in organisational operations (George, 2000), have higher job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation (Abraham, 2000), are helping the effective operating of their team (Prati & Ronald, 2003), increase job performance of their followers by increasing their perception of the leader’s emotional skills (Vidyarthi, Anand, & Liden, 2014), enhance their decision-finding using emotions and establish interpersonal relationships to implement a sense of optimism as well as trust and collaboration in their team members (George, 2000).


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Critical Evaluation of the Theory of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership
University of Nottingham
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critical, evaluation, theory, emotionally, intelligent, leadership
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Julia Steger (Author), 2014, Critical Evaluation of the Theory of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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