Is Emotional Intelligence Obsolete?

“Watch out! The yellow ones don’t stop.”

“Watch out! The yellow ones don’t stop.”

When I left the Army, my biggest roadblock was getting used to how “soft” the world seemed to be. Everyone was sensitive and had feelings. I felt like I had to fake nice to all my coworkers and plaster on a smile each day. No one like direct feedback and everything was worded to be fluffy. To a former Green Beret, this seemed ridiculous. 

You see, in the Army the values of Leadership are easily captured with this acronym: LDRSHIP. (If you don’t know, now you know.) 


Each value aligns with the Army’s definition of leadership, which according to the Army Field Manual (FM) 6-22 on Leader Development, states Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” And from our nation’s rich history, you can say the Army has done a pretty good job producing top-notch leaders.

Nowhere on this list is “Emotional Intelligence” or “Kindness” or “Empathy.”


But there’s good reason – imagine you’re in a new recruit for the military. Your drill instructor, Gny. Sgt. Hartman, has a sole mission to train and mold an assorted collection of civilian teenagers into warriors, capable of combat. He introduces these new “pukes” (recruits) to 4AM wake up calls, daily Physical Training, extended ruck marches with heavy packs, harsh verbal language, drill and ceremony, regimented daily schedules, and constant, continuous stress all in a short time frame.* Why? So they can toughen up, learn to think and act under stress, and understand that discipline and teamwork keeps you alive in combat.

“Sorry, did I offend you? Please take some time to collect your emotions and let me know when you’re ready to resume training.”

“Sorry, did I offend you? Please take some time to collect your emotions and let me know when you’re ready to resume training.”

If the drill instructor started to apply emotional intelligence (EQ) to become aware of his recruits’ emotional needs and began to relate to their feelings... this will be a nightmare. Imagine asking recruits if they feel okay and give them “time out” cards when things get rough. Ha!

In Corporate America, this is not ridiculous. 

A Kellogg professor, and former CEO of a multi-billion dollar public company, once explained very simply, “the essence of leadership is to influence others, and you can only do that through being able to relate.” In a corporate environment where employees can pick up and leave (or quit) whenever they want, a leader must be able to relate to and be well received by others. Unlike the military, civilians can refuse to follow their middle managers with very little consequences. How can one lead if no one is following? 

I view one’s IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ as wheels on a bicycle. A leader’s IQ is the rear wheel, the propellent that drives the entire bike forward, and the EQ is the front wheel, which navigates. Your Emotional Intelligence allows you to turn and traverse around obstacles, or you’ll just plow into curbs, people, or an oncoming yellow taxi cab, much like other people’s emotions! 

Your EQ is what allows for a leader to demonstrate the “soft” stuff, but allows you to build those relationships with people: to listen, be open and genuine, to have common interests, and even to be kind. Turns out, we do this very frequently in the Army as well. Though your soldiers can’t just leave your unit if he or she doesn’t like it, we have what’s called the “Good Dude Factor,” which allows us to assess whether we can trust a fellow soldier, especially when bullets start flying overhead. And it happens that folks who also live and breathe these Army values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage, are the ones who eventually are given that label.

Though on the exterior, Veterans seem stoic and emotionless, stemming from a culture where rank or authority dictates execution, internally we are just as influenced by relationships and EQ. Our love for our fellow brothers-and-sisters-in-arms goes deeper than just emotions – it’s a respect and devotion that enables us to be capable of sacrificing ourselves for one another. Veterans have fought in the trenches together, and hence, have formed deep bonds with our teams that are sometimes more unbreakable than the mission on hand. 

And this all starts with how we feel about one another and how how intelligent we are to one’s emotions.


*Author does not advocate such treatment of individuals to be appropriate methods of building leaders.