Here’s Why You Need IQ as well as EQ

Back in the 1990s in the UK, there was a popular TV show called The Fast Show. The brainchild of comedians Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, it consisted of a number of sketches, catchphrases and characters.

One of my favourites was a character called Tim Nice But Dim. Tim was a product of the British upper middle class and therefore had money, privilege and connections. The only problem was that, well, as his name suggests he was just a bit dim and didn’t really know much anything. He was high in emotional intelligence (EQ), but low in intellectual intelligence (IQ).

The punchline was that even though Tim was dim, everything always worked out for him anyway because of his background. It was funny, because it was true. Or at least it seemed that way to us in the less privileged north of England.

In real life, however, it didn’t quite work that way.

The people that succeeded had a good mix of EQ and IQ. These were the people that I held up as role models. Who taught me not only the technical aspects of my role, but also the emotional ones too. Who could provide feedback on my work and crucially, the techniques and behaviours I could develop to improve it.

I frequently write about the importance of emotional intelligence and the fact that it’s the key differentiator between success and failure. The research and statistics prove this to be the case. And yet, you can’t get by on emotions alone, you have to be technically good too and practice it well.

EQ is not the be all and end all of a successful career. Indeed your IQ – accordingy to author Daniel Goleman – ‘is by far the better determinant of career success, in the sense of predicting what kind of job you will be able to hold.’

In other words, to progress to a role with more responsibility, you have to know your stuff and then stay on top of it as it develops and evolves. As American author Travis Bradberry said ‘if you’re not getting a little bit better every day, you’re most likely getting a little worse.’

The project management world in which I’ve worked for 20 years is dominated by methods, guides, principles, processes and (in some organisations) doctrines. PRINCE2, PMBoK, Lean, SixSigma, Scrum, P3O, MSP and so on. Project managers must also facilitate, public speak, negotiate and manage risk and performance.

They have to know the details of how to do all of these things and then do them all really well. All of the time. That’s what they’re paid to do.

They’re not paid to be subject matter experts in web development, store design or bridge building. However, as they’re paid to lead and motivate a team of people who will do this work, they have to know enough about the subject matter to be able to ask the right questions and build the best team.

Most of this latter work happens outside working hours and involves reading papers, articles, case studies and asking lots of people lots of questions.

Combining IQ with EQ is what the great project managers do really well. That’s why they earn good salaries and are the seen as future organisation leaders. They know when to dial the EQ up and the IQ down and vice versa.

In project management, the development emphasis has been on IQ or ‘technical’ skills for far too long and organisations continue to suffer at the hands of this IQ-only development and delivery approach. Providing people with the EQ or ‘Leadership’ skills not only fills the inspiration and motivation gap, but also helps project managers to see that relentless self-reflection (EQ) AND self-development (IQ) is where future success lives.

Take risk management as an example. It requires knowledge of what risk is, how to assess it, how to plan to minimise or reduce it, how to facilitate a workshop effectively and how to complete and manage a risk register. All technical skills.

It also requires the communication skills to get the information from those best placed to share it. To facilitate effective discussions and conversations and also to make the whole thing fun.

Knowing when to ‘slide’ between leadership and technical skills is critical to the ongoing success of this exercise.


Building the team before you start the project however, is different. There is a heavy reliance here on leadership skills. To bring a group of disparate individuals together to create vision, to agree behaviours, to agree how you’ll work together and to define the required culture.


Once the project commences, there’ll be issues that will need to be resolved. This is where the technical expertise takes over;  where a project manager will demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter by asking the right questions and by using their leadership skills to bring the right people into the conversation at the right time.

They may also use methods such as design thinking to help the team research, interpret, generate, prototype and evaluate possible solutions. The slide might look something like this:


Even though, according to research, it gets harder to develop these technical (or IQ) skills as people get older, leaders shouldn’t let that stop them – the career rewards lie on the other side of this hard work. And in his book Drive, Dan Pink issued a warning by saying, ‘becoming ever better at something you care about is not lined with daisies and spanned by a rainbow.’

However, Carol Dweck said in her book Mindset, that with the right mindset we can all change how substantially smart we are, both emotionally and intellectually. You just have to want to. Personal change and development can be hard work, but no one ever said it wasn’t worth it.

High EQ will always be the difference between average leaders and great ones, but without IQ too, they will always be talked of in terms of ‘Tim is nice, but…’

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