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Does IQ Predict Success in Life?

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Does IQ Predict Success in Life?


IQ is one predictor of success but not the only one. IQ matters, but so does EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Here’s why.

6 min read

What’s more important – “book smarts” or “street smarts”? Cognitive intelligence or emotional intelligence? IQ is one predictor of success but not the only one. IQ matters, but so does EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Here’s why.

IQ and EQ: Different types of intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) burst onto the scene almost three decades ago after psychologist Daniel Goleman’s revolutionary book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, was published (Goleman, 1995). Goleman’s work was highly influential because it challenged the prevailing view that general intelligence, that is, “book smarts”, predicts success in life.

Goleman was intrigued by the observation that some people with a high IQ flounder while others of modest IQ do surprisingly well. He concluded that the ability to recognize and manage our own emotions and to recognize and respond effectively to the emotions of others was the hidden piece of the puzzle. He used the term “emotional intelligence” to describe this “street smarts” capability. In the process, Goleman fundamentally changed our understanding of what intelligence is. His expanded model of what it means to be intelligent places emotions at the very heart of aptitudes for living and working.

General intelligence, or general cognitive ability, is measured using standardized intelligence tests and reported as a score known as an intelligence quotient (IQ) (Cherry, 2021). IQ scores reflect abilities including visual and spatial processing; knowledge of the world; fluid reasoning; working memory and short-term memory; and quantitative reasoning (Cherry, 2020). Emotional intelligence can also be measured, with the score referred to as an emotional intelligence quotient, or EQ. EQ scores relate to emotional and social skills that help us understand ourselves and others (Hawkins, 2020).

IQ is an important component of success, particularly in relation to academic achievement. People with high IQs tend to perform well in school, make higher salaries, and be healthier (Richardson & Norgate, 2015). However, experts now consider that IQ is just one predictor of life success. Among the complex array of further influences is emotional intelligence (Cherry, 2020). The higher the level of EQ a person has, the more likely they are to succeed at work, in their personal and professional relationships, and to bounce back after failure (MacCann & Roberts, 2016).

Emotional intelligence (EQ) at work matters… now

In the workplace, someone with a high EQ will understand and empathize with their co-workers, know how to make adjustments to meet deadlines, handle criticism well and use feedback to improve their performance (Cassata, 2021). But, how important are these capabilities? How much do they really matter at work?

According to the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2020, emotional intelligence is among the top 15 skills workplaces will require in 2025 (World Economic Forum, 2020). Indeed, many companies already use EQ tests in their hiring processes (Cherry, 2020). These types of assessments are used to help organizations understand how prospective employees might manage their emotions and stress, interact with co-workers and clients, and which tasks and responsibilities they will be best suited to (Cassata, 2021). The Future of Jobs report also includes statistics on “reskilling/upskilling programmes” globally. Emotional intelligence appears in the top 10 lists of “current skills in focus” for developed nations including the Unites States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia (World Economic Forum, 2020).

If you are in a sales or marketing role, you may be familiar with one of the ideas of Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. He found that “people would rather do business with a person they like and trust rather than someone they don’t, even if that that person is offering a better product at a lower price” (Deutschendorf, 2015). We are social animals; therefore, social and emotional skills matter.

What if you’re not client facing? You still need to interact with your peers. Emotional intelligence author Harvey Deutschendorf says, we all want “to work with people who are easy to get along with, supportive, likeable, and can be trusted. We want to be beside people that do not get upset easily and can keep their composure when things do not work out according to plan” (Deutschendorf, 2015). To make such a positive workplace experience possible, we need to be or become the kind of co-workers we’d like to have!

If you’re a leader, emotional intelligence is a non-negotiable. Daniel Goleman’s research found that 80 – 90% of the abilities that differentiate high performing executives relate to emotional intelligence (O’Neill, 2019). Research firm Egon Zehnder International found a similar link between successful executives and emotional intelligence, discovering EQ trumps previous experience and IQ (Deutschendorf, 2015). This is because at the C-suite level of leadership everyone is “book smart”. Having a high IQ simply grants entry to the game. What distinguishes performance in this leadership game, then, is “street smarts” or EQ.

The verdict: IQ? EQ? Or both?

It’s complicated. IQ is one predictor of success but not the only one. IQ matters, but so does EQ. The good news is there is plenty we can do to develop our EQ (starting with developing a growth mindset).