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Board effectiveness and evaluation  |  Chair  |  Leadership (purpose, values, culture)

Could EQ be the attribute separating good from great board chairs?


Respondents to a 2021 survey conducted by NEDonBoard, Institute of Board Members placed emotional intelligence as the most important skill of effective board chairs. In this blog, we define emotional intelligence, also referred as EQ or Emotional Quotient (coined as an analogy to IQ or Intelligence Quotient) and explain why respondents placed the trait at the top of the list. 

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of others, and to use that awareness to manage one’s own behaviour and relationships effectively.

The concept of emotional intelligence gained prominence through the work of psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer, and later popularised by Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” published in 1995. Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence theory outlines five components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. In this book, he introduced the idea that emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in personal and professional success, social interactions, and overall well-being.

In the context of chair qualities and performance, emotional intelligence plays a pivotal role in fostering strong leadership, effective communication, and positive board dynamics.

Why does having high emotional intelligence help the board chair?

Emotional intelligence is a foundational quality that enhances the overall performance of a board chair. A board chair (or committee chair) with high EQ will:

  • Communicate effectively with board members and other stakeholders, by being attuned to their emotional states and will respond therefore more appropriately.
  • Facilitate productive discussions and decision-making, by being able to recognise and manage conflicts or strong emotions as they arise.
  • Build trust and credibility with board members and other stakeholders, by demonstrating empathy and being able to respond to their concerns and needs.
  • Manage a board composed of diverse board members, encourage debate and constructive discussion to build consensus.
  • Create an inclusive environment in which each board member has a voice and is being heard.
  • Manage their own emotions and take steps to regulate them, as needed.

High emotional intelligence helps a board chair to be a more effective leader and facilitate a positive, productive, and effective board environment. For most boards and organisations, EQ is likely the attribute that separates a good board chair from a great one.

Additional resources:

Exploring the crucial traits of an effective chair

The evolving role of the chair in modern governance

For those aspiring to take on the pivotal committee or board chair role, our comprehensive Chairship course offers guidance and insights to equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to secure a chair role and excel as a chairperson. Discover how you can step confidently into the realm of board and committee leadership by enrolling in our specialised course today.

If you look for a mentor to support your chair in addressing areas of underperformance, please contact us at [email protected].

Written by Elise Perraud