Emotional intelligence and how it can power your performance

Emotional intelligence and how it can power your performance.

A concept that is already established in many successful organisations, the development of emotional-intelligence is becoming fundamental for both leaders and those who wish to enhance their performance, whatever environment you work in.

Earlier this year at a conference, Cormac McCarthy, former Cork inter-county footballer and commentator made a presentation at a conference for careers service professionals from universities throughout the country.

Entitled ‘Emotional Intelligence-the power behind enhanced performance’, the presentation focused on the value of emotional intelligence in areas of intense of focus. I’ll provide these examples later but on the corporate side, companies like Google, UPS, Opentext, Facebook, Xerox and many more have all invested considerably in improving emotional intelligence in their employees and managers.

What is it?

So what is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence (EI) and the resulting Emotional Quotient (EQ) is defined as the ability to identify, assess and control the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. The concept of emotional intelligence began to emerge in the 1990s, with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ in 1995 based on the work of psychologists Howard Gardner (Harvard), Peter Salovey (Yale) and John Mayer (New Hampshire) in the 1970s. 

Unlike intellectual intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EI) is a skill which can be cultivated and one that tends to be best demonstrated among experienced and top-ranking professionals. Emotional intelligence is extremely important in any workplace, especially for those in managerial positions.

Studies by psychologist and New York Times science journalist Daniel Goleman suggested that EQ is actually more important than IQ in terms of career success. EI spans managing both your own emotions, the key to developing your own emotional intelligence, and understanding the emotional response of others and allowing you to empathise with them, cultivating the ability learn, listen, lead and engineer creative responses to setbacks.

However EI is open to misinterpretation too, it’s not about being over-emotional or being pleasant to others, indeed it’s vital to be able to confront colleagues, sometimes bluntly, when serious problems occur. The main benefits for an emotionally intelligent leader or manager are increased stability amongst his/her employees, decreased levels of conflict, more cohesive and open relationships and increased effectiveness in the work of the organisation or department. EI workplaces aim to reduce irrational and impulsive behaviour and cooperation is increased towards a common goal.

While you may now be able to visualise how emotional intelligence could benefit a corporate working environment, it’s interesting to see how beneficial it also is in extreme performance environments. Cormac McCarthy, now Irish partner with Gazing Performance Systems (, outlines two examples from his experience.

Navy Seals

“Last year I was lucky enough to spend a week with the Navy Seals at their training base in San Diego,” said Cormac. “Their command psychologist, Ryan Maid, explained to me how important EI and EQ were for a really high level of performance when operating as a Navy Seal. They admitted they had made mistakes in the past. Previously, their selection process had only ever allowed for recruits to drop themselves out based on the extremely arduous training and selection process. In their own words, this sometimes produced guys who could simply take a better beating than the next guy. So they introduced Emotional Intelligence training when dealing with highly challenging situation. This was all with the end-goal of preparing their recruits in the best way possible and to function as part end of a team.”

New Zealand Rugby

The second example that Cormac gave was with the All-Blacks and the elite rugby environment in New Zealand, where Gazing Performance systems had conducted their ‘performance under pressure’ programme with the All Blacks prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. “The most powerful thing that I learned, when visiting the environment in which elite rugby functions in New Zealand, was that focusing on things within your control and not things that are outside of your control is one of the greatest things you can do for your own performance. Knowing the difference is key.” Cormac explained that a really powerful example of this came from one the key All Blacks players during that World Cup campaign.

“In that tournament, All Blacks Captain Richie McCaw played the knock out stage games of the tournament with what later turned out to be a broken bone in his foot. McCaw had hurt his foot during the group stage games, but in the lead up to the tournament, he had devoted a huge amount of time to the concept of focus of attention as a foundation for his physical training.

So, after he heard that crack in his foot during the group stages, he decided not to have it scanned until after the tournament had ended. He knew that in all-likelihood any x-ray would reveal a break. He had resolved mentally that he could get through the group stages anyway, so why shift his attention onto the reasons why he could not?” McCarthy explained that what McCaw and his team had done was become self-aware of their thoughts and when those thoughts drifted into the negative.

“They did this with the help of a performance psychology technique. They became able to recognise thoughts that deviated from their goal as ‘negative’ or ‘Red Head’. They learned to accept them and consequently they were able to simply choose to move their focus back to the present, to a calmer and more accessible ‘Blue Head’ state by focusing on what they could control. When I was there I saw some of my colleagues working with these players, I was blown away by the emphasis they were putting on this ‘red-head’ – ‘blue-head’ concept, their insistence that it was indeed the soft skills that delivered the hard skills.”

Examples such as these, in extreme environments, show how fundamental EI can be in improving the efficacy and environment of any workplace. Things like the ‘performance under pressure’ concept can be adapted into leadership programmes, management training and client relations. According to, an emotional intelligence training provider, over 75% of the Fortune 500 companies use emotional intelligence training tools and over 90% of leaders and top performers within these companies have developed their emotional intelligence as a means of improving their performance.

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