The Relationship Between Cognitive Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence: A Guide for Leaders


The Relationship Between Cognitive Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence: A Guide for Leaders

Hi Meaningful Leaders,

Let’s talk about Cognitive Intelligence (CI) and Emotional Intelligence (EI), which have long been topics of interest, especially within the realms of education, psychology, and leadership. As the business environment evolves, understanding the intricacies of these two types of intelligence becomes crucial for leaders. But what are they exactly? And how do they intersect?

What is Cognitive Intelligence?

CI refers to abilities such as reasoning, problem-solving, memory, attention, and knowledge acquisition. It’s often what we think of when we refer to someone’s “intelligence quotient” or IQ. It deals primarily with the ability to process information, learn quickly, and apply knowledge.

According to Neisser et al. (1996), cognitive intelligence includes the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience” (p. 77).

What is Emotional Intelligence?

EI is a concept popularized by psychologists such as Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in the early 1990s, and later by author Daniel Goleman. It refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our emotions, as well as recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.

Mayer and Salovey (1997) defined EI as the “ability to 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.”

And just for further clarification, Emotional Intelligence (EI) and Emotional Quotient (EQ) are terms that are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between them:

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

  • Definition: Emotional Intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, understand, manage, and effectively express one’s own feelings, as well as to engage and navigate successfully with those of others.
  • Components:
    1. Accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others.
    2. Use emotions to facilitate thinking.
    3. Understand emotional meanings and nuances.
    4. Manage emotions for personal growth.
  • Scope: EI is more of a theoretical construct that describes an individual’s ability in the domain of emotions and interpersonal relationships.

Emotional Quotient (EQ)

  • Definition: Emotional Quotient is a measure of an individual’s Emotional Intelligence. Just as an IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test measures cognitive intelligence, an EQ test attempts to measure emotional intelligence.
  • Components: EQ tests or assessments typically measure various elements related to EI, such as emotional awareness, empathy, interpersonal effectiveness, self-regulation, and motivation.
  • Scope: EQ provides a quantitative value (a score) that claims to predict one’s ability to perform tasks that require emotional intelligence. It is a way of gauging how well a person uses their EI.

The Intersection of CI and EI

While CI deals with objective reasoning and logic, EI tackles subjective understanding and emotion. It’s not difficult to understand why both are essential for leadership. A leader may have all the knowledge in the world, but without the ability to manage emotions or understand the feelings of their team, their effectiveness could be compromised.

Several studies have shown that while CI might get you the job, it’s EI that will help you excel in it. For example:

A study by the Carnegie Institute of Technology showed that 85% of financial success is generated from people skills (related to EI) while only 15% is from technical knowledge (CI).

Furthermore, a meta-analysis by O’Boyle, Humphrey, Pollack, Hawver, and Story (2011) found that EI is a better predictor than CI when it comes to job performance, especially at higher levels of leadership.

Comparison of CI and EI in Leadership:

  1. Problem Solving:
    • CI: Analyzes complex situations, generates potential solutions, and evaluates the best course of action.
    • EI: Gauges the emotional and interpersonal impact of decisions, ensuring solutions are both logical and empathetic.
  2. Team Dynamics:
    • CI: Understands structural and operational requirements, from skill sets to task delegation.
    • EI: Comprehends interpersonal dynamics, fosters an inclusive environment, and strengthens team relationships.
  3. Communication:
    • CI: Ensures clear dissemination of information, helping the team grasp objectives and strategies.
    • EI: Tailors communication to be emotionally resonant, fostering an environment of constructive feedback.
  4. Risk Management:
    • CI: Assesses risks, predicts outcomes, and devises mitigation strategies.
    • EI: Grasps the emotional implications of risks, navigating change with sensitivity.
  5. Innovation:
    • CI: Understands technological and industry shifts and develops novel ideas.
    • EI: Promotes a culture of innovation by managing emotions around change and failure.
  6. Change Management:
    • CI: Provides strategies to navigate organizational shifts, anticipating challenges, and devising a roadmap for change.
    • EI: Recognizes the human side of change, addressing fears, resistance, and hopes, ensuring smooth transitions and buy-in from stakeholders.
  7. Relationship Building:
    • CI: Uses knowledge and understanding to recognize the roles and contributions of team members.
    • EI: Facilitates deeper connections by recognizing individual emotions, needs, and aspirations, fostering genuine relationships built on trust and empathy. After all, team building is relationship building.

Relevance for Leaders:

  1. Strategic Vision: CI provides leaders with the capability to envision long-term goals, analyze market trends, and devise strategies. However, it is EI that ensures this vision is communicated with passion, engendering trust and inspiring teams to rally behind the vision.
  2. Cultural Sensitivity: Modern leadership often involves working across cultures. While CI enables the comprehension of cultural nuances and differences, EI is crucial for navigating these differences with genuine respect and understanding.
  3. Embracing Feedback: Leaders are continuously in the line of feedback, both positive and negative. CI allows them to process and analyze this feedback for content. In contrast, EI helps them manage their reactions to feedback, understanding the emotional context in which it is given, and using it constructively.
  4. Mentorship and Development: As leaders mold the next generation of professionals, CI gives them the tools to teach, instruct, and guide. EI, however, ensures they can connect with their mentees, understanding their aspirations, fears, and motivations, making mentorship truly transformative.
  5. Resilience in Adversity: Leadership is riddled with challenges. While CI helps navigate these challenges logically, EI is the anchor that ensures emotional stability, fostering resilience not just within the leader but also instilling it within the team.


For a leader, the balance between CI and EI is akin to the balance between the mind and the heart. While cognitive intelligence ensures the ship is navigated with precision, emotional intelligence ensures the crew is motivated, united, and invested in the journey. In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership, the harmonization of CI and EI emerges not just as a recommended skillset but a fundamental cornerstone of effective leadership.

I hope you found value here today. If so, please like, comment and share with your network; it truly helps us spread the word.

Thanks for reading and God bless.

Yours in leadership and growth,

Always rooting for YOU!


  • Neisser, U., Boodoo, G., Bouchard, T. J., Boykin, A., Brody, N., Ceci, S. J., … & Urbina, S. (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and unknowns. American psychologist, 51(2), 77.
  • Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey & D. J. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (pp. 3-31). New York: Basic Books.
  • O’Boyle, E. H., Humphrey, R. H., Pollack, J. M., Hawver, T. H., & Story, P. A. (2011). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta?analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(5), 788-818.


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