The legal profession has long revered individuals who demonstrate high intelligence and strong technical competence. In recent years, however, there has been growing recognition that another critical part of professional success is emotional intelligence, or EQ. While being technically proficient at one’s craft is essential, for both professionals and organizations it is no longer enough. As the legal profession increasingly aligns with clients’ business needs and methodologies, the soft skills embodied in EQ will often make the meaningful difference in determining the trajectory of one’s career and a company’s success.
While the concept of emotional intelligence has been around for many years, it became mainstream in the mid-1990s with Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman focuses on a skill set that drives leadership, performance and success:
Self-awareness – understanding yourself and your emotions
Self-management – managing oneself in response to people and situations
Social awareness – sensing and responding to others’ emotions and comprehending social networks
Relationship management – inspiring and developing others while managing conflict
While some people may possess these skills innately, it is possible to acquire them through training and practice. Along with one’s technical abilities, these skills contribute to personal and professional success and drive the ability to be effective.
Research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology strongly supports the importance of emotional intelligence in driving professional success. Indeed, EQ has been determined to be just as important, if not more, than one’s IQ. In fact, some researchers have concluded that, across many professions, EQ accounts for 58 percent of one’s performance.1 Moreover, 90 percent of high performers have been found to have a high EQ, whereas only 20 percent of low performers do.2 Notably, the legal profession is continually evolving its efforts to develop and reward EQ-based skills. In such areas as business development, talent recruitment, mentoring, client service, diversity and inclusion, project management, and professional and community leadership, EQ-based skills provide common threads. They enable effective development of relationships, collegiality, team building, strategic partnering, intuition, empathy, humility, compassion, understanding and the ability to influence others. The common denominators among these traits are self-awareness and effectively developing a meaningful connection with others. By practicing these skills on a regular basis, lawyers can become more effective, both personally and professionally. This ultimately accrues to the benefit of individual practitioners, their organizations, their clients and their communities.
In practice, lawyers with high EQs also differentiate themselves from their peers by demonstrating an array of talents and a propensity for flexibility and leadership. This is particularly important during challenging economic times, when law firms and corporations alike are continually looking for ways to streamline their workforce. Those with high EQs are often powerful managers and leaders, resilient, optimistic, confident and creative communicators with sound decision-making abilities. These skills will make them not only successful professionals, but also effective agents for EQ-based qualities.
In future editions of the IPT News, this column will examine emotional intelligence as related to aspects of the legal profession, including client service, case management, talent management and mentoring, diversity and inclusion, leadership and business development. In the context of EQ skills and competencies, we will look at ourselves and the organizations where we work, providing a new window on our personal and professional relationships and ways we can be effective agents for change and success.
1 Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 20-21 (TalentSmart 2009).
2 Id. at 21.