Apr 4, 2017

Does emotional intelligence make you a better leader, soldier, athlete?

The suggestion that 85% of successful leadership performance can be explained by EI (Goleman, 1995), is probably a gross exaggeration, however it has attracted the training industry. Despite the popularity that surrounds EI training interventions, empirical studies on EI development are limited in number. Furthermore, most information on this issue is anecdotal and widely dispersed across a host of academic books, professional websites, consulting literature, and trade magazines (Groves, et al., 2008). The majority of EI training programs were designed for managers, few for athletes and coaches, and the idea to use EI training for the fighting force is only now being discussed.

Developing EI in project managers, international governmental and nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders

Studies that investigate the influence of EI training on manager performance are rare, even rarer are those that employ adequate methodology (e.g., random sampling, an active control group). Clarke (2010) in a pre/posttest quasi-experimental design investigated the influence of a two-day training program that was designed to improve a number of emotional abilities and empathy among UK project managers. Because project management attempts to get the best input from a wide range of technical specialists and experts, it was assumed that EI training could increase their performance. Especially as it is estimated that almost 80% of project success depends on the ability of project managers to effectively manage relationships between all of the parties involved. The results showed positive effects in a 6 months follow up on the EI factor of understanding emotions as well as on two project manager competences – teamwork and managing conflict.

The study by Nafukho et al. (2016) investigated the influence of an EI training program on 38 NGO leaders coming from 30 countries. The 5-day EI training workshop focused on self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship-management skills. The sessions allowed participants to (i) review the results of their EI test scores, (ii) discuss the challenges that they faced, (iii) receive personal feedback based on the coach’s observations of their behaviors during the workshop, and (iv) develop individual strategies to improve their emotional intelligence skills with the assistance of the instructor. The results showed that after the training there was growth in all five EI dimensions as well as in the total EI score. The highest growth occurred in the interpersonal dimension followed by general mood, adaptability and total EI. The smallest growth was observed for stress management and intrapersonal dimensions.

Two studies by Kathryn Thory (2013; 2016), investigated the influence of different EI training programs on the ability to regulate emotions and develop meaningfulness at work. Her analysis was based on data collected from participant observations and interviews with trainers and managers of ‘popular’ EI training courses. In her first study eight emotion regulation strategies that were classified as attention deployment, cognitive change and response modulation were analyzed. Data were collected from 40 hours of participant observation on three EI training courses (Bar-On, Goleman and hybrid courses) and 30 in-depth interviews. Training participants worked in a range of industry sectors as well as local government, police and education. After training the participants most often used the stop[1] and mindfulness[2] strategy, as well as the pencil[3] method, but were less inclined to use cognitive change strategies such as the ABCD method which requires participants to examine thoughts, emotions and beliefs arising from an event, exploring the consequences of these processes and then disputing them. In comparison with the more popular methods, the ABCD technique is most complex and time consuming which is probably the reason for the low popularity given the time constraints managers face in their everyday work.

Her second study (Thory, 2016) followed a similar design as the first one. The obtained qualitative data were analyzed with the Lips-Wiersma and Morris’s (2009) model of meaningful work. Meaningfulness at work was defined as the value of a work goal, judged in relation to individuals’ ideals and standards. The Lips-Wiersma and Morris model identifies four sources of meaningfulness (self versus others, and doing versus being): Developing the inner self (self/being), expressing full potential (self/doing), unity with others (others/being) and serving others (others/doing). The interviews with the participants revealed that all of the interviewed managers engaged in developing the inner self, half of them drew on a drive towards achievement and tried to make their work more meaningful by expressing one’s potential. In addition, two-thirds of the respondents adopted increased practices in unity with others or serving others at work as a consequence of attending the EI training course.

EI training in sports

In a systematic review of 36 studies on the influence of EI on sport performance, Laborde et al. (2016) found that EI relates to emotions, physiological stress responses, successful psychological skill usage, and more successful athletic performance, positive attitudes toward physical activity and to effective leadership and function of athlete coaches. From this perspective, EI training in sports would be beneficial to all individuals involved in sport. However, few studies were conducted to address this question. Crombie et al. (2011) investigated the influence of EI training on 24 cricketers who were randomly assigned to either a control or experimental group. The experimental group received 10 3-h EI training sessions that targeted the four branches of Mayer and Salovey’s EI model – namely emotion perception, facilitation, understanding, and managing. The study found that EI training was associated with greater increases in ability EI than a control condition.

In the second study, 20 netballers were randomly assigned to either a control or experimental group (Barlow & Banks, 2014). The participants of the experimental group attended a 30-min one-to-one coaching session that consisted of feedback and discussion of EI scores. The study found that trained netballers had greater increases in self-efficacy and greater decreases in anxiety than those assigned to the control condition. Campo et al. (2016) investigated the effectiveness of an EI training intervention on 67 rugby players. The intervention consisted of four face-to-face sessions over a 5-month period. The results showed that the intervention was effective in regard to increasing specific aspects of trait EI (i.e., social competence, emotion perception, and emotion management) but not global trait EI. In addition, when using age as a covariate, it decreased the effect size and as a result no significant improvements could be found on the individual EI subscales and EI factors.

I am in the army now

The usefulness of EI training for the fighting force is still only being discussed. It is most often believed that as a high-risk profession, the military should prioritize technical ability and training (Daffey-Moore, 2015). However in most missions, the boundaries between conflict and humanitarian assistance are often blurred, forcing the soldiers to make unprepared decisions. “It was suggested that if the military were to introduce EI into the training programme, it should be commenced on entry to the military and then continued all the way through with the support of the leaders from the top” (Daffey-Moore, 2015, p. 16). A similar conclusion was also put forward by Lackey (2011). Army leaders facing the Long War[4] should be emotionally intelligent.

EI training holds promise for improving the emotional experience of leaders, athletes, coaches, officials, spectators, regular exercisers and the fighting force - yet when analyzing the empirical data one could conclude: much ado about nothing.


Barlow A, Banks AP. Using emotional intelligence in coaching high-performance athletes: a randomised controlled trial. Coaching 2014: 1–8: 132–139.

Campo, M., Laborde, S., & Mosley, E. (2016). Emotional Intelligence Training in Team Sports: The Influence of a Season Long Intervention Program on Trait Emotional Intelligence. Journal of Individual Differences, 37(3), 152–158. https://doi.org/10.1027/1614-0001/a000201

Clarke, N. (2010). The impact of a training programme designed to target the emotional intelligence abilities of project managers. International Journal of Project Management, 28(5), 461–468. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijproman.2009.08.004

Crombie D, Lombard C, Noakes TD. (2011) Increasing emotional intelligence in cricketers: an intervention study. Int J Sports Sci Coach 6: 69–86.

Daffey-Moore, E. K. (2015). Is emotional intelligence relevant to a fighting force? Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 161(Suppl 1), i14–i16. https://doi.org/10.1136/jramc-2015-000548

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

Groves, K. S., Pat McEnrue, M., & Shen, W. (2008). Developing and measuring the emotional intelligence of leaders. Journal of Management Development, 27(2), 225–250. https://doi.org/10.1108/02621710810849353

Laborde, S., Dosseville, F., & Allen, M. S. (2016). Emotional intelligence in sport and exercise: A systematic review: Emotional intelligence. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 26(8), 862–874. https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.12510

Lackey RB. Emotional Intelligence Training: a missing element in our army? Fires 2011. http://www.thefreelibrary.com//print/printArticle.aspx?id=265575071

Lips-Wiersma, M. and Morris, L. (2009), ‘Discriminating between “meaningful work” and the “management of meaning”, Journal of Business Ethics, 88, 3, 491–511.

Nafukho, F. M., Muyia, M. H., Farnia, F., Kacirek, K., & Lynham, S. A. (2016). Developing Emotional Intelligence Skills among Practicing Leaders: Reality or Myth? Performance Improvement Quarterly, 29(1), 71–87. https://doi.org/10.1002/piq.21215

Thory, K. (2013). Teaching managers to regulate their emotions better: insights from emotional intelligence training and work-based application. Human Resource Development International, 16(1), 4–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/13678868.2012.738473

Thory, K. (2016). Developing meaningfulness at work through emotional intelligence training: Developing meaningfulness at work. International Journal of Training and Development, 20(1), 58–77. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12069

[1] Participants were asked to shout the word ‘STOP’ in their mind whenever an anxious or a troublesome thought appeared.
[2] Fostering present moment awareness in guiding attention away from worrying about things beyond one’s control.
[3] Managers were asked to stand up and hold a pen tightly in front of them in an outstretched hand repeating: “Could you let this feeling go?”
[4] "Long War", a name proposed in 2006 by U.S. military leaders for the war on terror.

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