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Why EQ Is So Critical For Leaders

by Anthony Bontrager on September 26, 2017

Emotional Intelligence

“I’ll tell you why you don’t have your ten million dollars. Because right now, you are a paycheck player, you play with your head and not your heart, your personal life is all heart but when you get on the field, it’s all about what you didn’t get, who’s to blame, who under threw the pass, who’s got the contracts you don’t, who’s not giving you your love. That’s not what inspires people. Just shut up and play the game with your heart.”

Tom Cruise – Jerry Maguire (1996)


It’s a common (and somewhat understandable) misnomer that “being nice” is what helps make leaders successful. I mean who doesn’t want to be the nice guy/girl that everyone loves, wants to hang out with and be on his or her team? But attributing a leader’s success and ability to attract people to their teams/projects to simply being nice misses the mark and diminishes their true talent of harnessing Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence (or EQ for short) is the ability to identify emotions (in both yourself and others), to recognize the powerful effect of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and help guide your and other’s behavior.

Successful leaders understand that EQ is more than being nice and getting along with others. It’s about connecting and communicating with people at their most visceral level. This DOES NOT mean pandering to people’s emotions. It means learning from other perspectives, recognizing their key motivators and communicating in a way that resonates intelligently and respectfully. An excellent example of EQ in action is Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s response to Uber losing its operating license in London this past week.

When confronted with this situation, it would have been all too easy to for Dara to decry the London Transportation Authority’s decision as unfair, egregious and attack on free enterprise and innovation. However, Dara used the LTA decision to demonstrate the power of learning from negative feedback and using that knowledge to convey his strong disagreement with the decision while also acknowledging Uber’s past sins, how those sins resulted in the LTA’s decision and how Uber is committed to being a better partner with the municipalities in which it operates.

Following is Dara’s email to all Uber employees on the LTA decision:

“Thanks Pierre, and thanks to everyone working on this issue.

Like all of you, I’m hugely disappointed in the decision by London’s Mayor and Transport for London. It could have profound negative consequences for the 40,000 drivers who depend on Uber for work and the 3.5 million Londoners who rely on Uber to get around.

It’s particularly discouraging that this is happening in the UK, where the team has led the way on partnerships with local groups to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible and electric vehicles on the road.

While the impulse may be to say that this is unfair, one of the lessons I’ve learned over time is that change comes from self-reflection. So it’s worth examining how we got here. The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation. Irrespective of whether we did everything that is being said about us in London today (and to be clear, I don’t think we did), it really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours, where actions in one part of the world can have serious consequences in another.

Going forward, it’s critical that we act with integrity in everything we do, and learn how to be a better partner to every city we operate in. That doesn’t mean abandoning our principles–we will vigorously appeal TfL’s decision–but rather building trust through our actions and our behavior. In doing so, we will show that Uber is not just a really great product, but a really great company that is meaningfully contributing to society, beyond its business and its bottom line.

Thanks for everything you’re doing to make Uber the best company it can be, and particularly to our teammates in London and across the UK.


In his message, Dara rightly hones in on the issue of perceptions, how perceptions can differ and the importance of recognizing that perceptions shape behavior and vice versa. This is an excellent example of leveraging high EQ to bridge two disparate viewpoints – that of Uber and its’ team members and the LTA and City of London – to move the discussion forward to a (hopefully) successful resolution for all.

Of course watching your health is also extremely important. Without your health there is no way to practice any of the points listed here. I take a health supplement I get through for example. It ensures my body gets the nutrients it requires on a daily basis. It works great for me and I highly recommend it.

Practicing EQ consistently is not easy. It takes discipline to learn from others and to recognize that even negative feedback is a blessing as it exposes us to our blind spots and provides us with the opportunity to improve. As leaders, few things are more important.



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