Emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”) is an idea that grew up in academia, was popularized on pop psychology shelves and, more recently, has been made useful in leadership development and organizational management circles. From its conception, it was juxtaposed to the idea of Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Its lofty intellectual beginnings notwithstanding, EQ has been embraced by so many for so many reasons that its early paradigmatic intentions may now be lost to the many.
Popular ideas live in the minds of the many and, perhaps because of their simplicity and utility, become sustainable and prolific for both producers and consumers. Academic ideas and constructs more often tend to be quite different from popular ideas. They differ in that their currency tends to require intellectual specialization, academic environments akin to monasteries, and individuals with a broad understanding of the numerous currents and variables that give academic products their place in the refereed conversation of the nation’s professorial ranks. Emotional intelligence is an important flashpoint for forces with differing origins yet ideally common destinations–thinking individuals wanting to promote social good and noble ends. Daniel Goleman and Adam Grant are two such forces; they are social communicative pundits in the ongoing tug of war that will define the proper and productive utility, and place, of emotional intelligence, as a leadership and workforce development concept.
We may be exceedingly amazed to see academics, intellectuals, pundits, and intellectual entrepreneurs spar in the marketplace of ideas in order to promote their worth and place in the market. Certainly, Adam Grant steps into the breach and tries to hold Goleman to task for what he sees as academic obfuscation. Interestingly, he borders on ad hominem intentions and plain teasing. Perhaps Adam Grant is pandering to this electronic social media medium and finds such rhetorical tools necessary. Perhaps the conversation that is sought here with leaders understands that today’s leaders are not Plato’s philosopher kings. Indeed, Grant does not seem to see the business of management outside of specific emotional terrain so touchy feely as Goleman would. It is plain to see that Daniel Goleman’s place is secure, as the high priest of pop psychology, because his Ph.D. in Psychology and his perch on the NYTs allowed him to popularly run with the “EQ” concept and build an entrepreneurial empire which may outlive him and the rest of us. To be sure, the spoils from popular media endeavors have favored Goleman’s lot, EQ’s intellectual forefathers have not similarly gained (John Mayer and Peter Salovey). This does not bode well for future intellectuals lacking entrepreneurial prowess. You will find Mr. Grant on LinkedIn though, promoting his intellectual wares; he’ll do just fine.
Interestingly, we can look at Salovey’s dissertation from way back in 1986 for the early intellectual ground from which the concept of EQ grew (P. Salovey, The Effects of Mood and Focus of Attention on Self-Relevant Thoughts and Helping Intention, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Yale University, 1986). We can also look at the role of popular psychology in our culture to find similar ground for Goleman’s efforts and success. Mayer and Salovey are the original promoters of the ideas and of the intellectual history which gave intellectual buoyancy to the concept. Daniel Goleman refers to his encounter with the work of these two men in a passing way and diminishes their importance by alluding to the lack of stature of the journal in which they published the original 1990 article “Emotional Intelligence.” Goleman has turned the work of these men into a cottage industry and his published retort to Grant shows his ability to popularly promote the term “EQ” in contrast to feebly defending it. Perhaps Goleman is safe behind the popularity curtain always protecting his wizard like reputation. Up and coming scholar, Adam Grant, rightly exposes Goleman’s use of the concept as less relevant outside the parameters of academic rigor and of the realms of possible scientific discipline and emotive applications.
The concept has grown to mean so many things to so many people that it now means specifically very little within the confines of academic, intellectual or theoretical query. Salovey and Mayer’s contributions to modern management and leadership are now popularly distant from their original rigorous work. The popular development of that work may possibly have obstructed the original potential of Salovey and Mayer’s ideas and constructs, further obfuscating the road to needed progressive managerial and leadership applications. Goleman has made it common coin and personal gain–neither being efforts which have contributed significantly in taking the concept further along its original intellectual journey; nor has it helped in the building of necessary theoretical constructs that can give us an applied framework that allows for clarity regarding how and when it is useful as a heuristic model for organizational, group, or individual purposes. To be sure, Goleman now makes these claims; but his arguments are devoid of the rigor evident in the original works of the real pioneers from which the potentially useful constructs originate.
Centuries have passed since the monastic catacombs of the original academy, with its religious literati and the ensuing work of the eventually enlightened philosophers and scientists. Work that was preserved and discriminatingly shared through coveted books and into modernity. But all that has now changed and continues to change. Ideas are now increasingly, and literally, in the clouds, ubiquitous cannon fodder for daily consumption; their value and retention seems now to be more tethered to the common cause than to the lofty undertaking. Can you imagine that?