For the past two decades, experts, gurus, and psychologists have been equating high Emotional Intelligence with success in leadership. But what if that leader is simply using his EQ skills to mask his emotions and control the emotions of others for his personal benefit? What about the common good and well-being of employees and goals of the organization?  Is EQ being taught in a vacuum?

With all the crash course and solicitations for EQ certifications and seminars, I began to do some self-evaluation.  Years ago I was told to be a great manager you need to understand the psychology of motivation. “Take a behavioral psychology course,” one of my associates said, “it will make you a better manager.”  I understood the impact of pulling at someone’s heart strings to motivating them into action. But what if the action is morally wrong or self-serving? Are there underlying common core values that must be taught before we can be given the “weapon” or skills of EQ?

Emotional Intelligence is being taught in our schools, colleges, and workplaces, as a system that promotes successful leaders and healthy work environments. Unfortunately, I have witnessed just the opposite and seen its destructive side. EQ without a moral code of conduct is a dangerous tool.  Its dangers are seen all around us, in the workplace, in politics, and in governance. Teach a bully EQ and he’ll be a better bully. Bullies have a high level of “social intelligence” and teaching them EQ could actually help rather than hinder bully behavior. While some advocate that EQ can reduce bullying, EQ without the proper moral codes won’t stop the bully from “reading people” to his advantage.   Many political campaigns and “exits” in hindsight make little sense to us and we wonder about how we were swept up in the emotional wave that’s out of sync with our core values.

Neuroscientists tell us that emotions are in the subconscious part of the brain. For instance, if I see something that emotes jealously, I cannot stop the emotion, but I can control how I react to it with thinking and intellect, which are in another part of the brain.  On the other hand, values, are cognitive and emotional. They combine thinking, concepts, goals, and beliefs with emotional attitudes that can be positive or negative. For example, if one of your core values is justice, and you see injustice towards one of your co-workers in the workplace, emotions such as empathy or anger will motivate you to action.

Some core values are universal while others may vary according to regions and cultures, and again have a variety of factors that influence them.   If we are going to teach Emotional Intelligence in our schools and workplaces, then we need to teach it in the context of the values that go along with it. It’s important to teach how to manage our emotions, but not to use that control to control others to their disadvantage. Otherwise, the acute development of Emotional Intelligence without a defined set of core values can lead to corruption and manipulation of human behavior rather than true leadership and a team  or community motivated to achieve  a common goal for the benefit of all.