Your  Account:

Steve Romano | Why EI Is the New IQ at Work

6-minute read • Leading With Emotional Intelligence

Steve Romano, Emotional Intelligence


Managing Director, Olistica and the Center for Sustainable Leadership

Certified Executive Coach

PhD, Leadership and Change

When Steve Romano, PhD, considers career success, his measure goes beyond the job title. Effectiveness as a leader and mentor can be greatly influenced by emotional intelligence (EI), or a person’s ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions, motivations, values and goals in themselves and others. In fact, research shows that emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart from peers. Learn from our conversation with Romano—instructor for CSUSM’s Supervising Employees and Leading With Emotional Intelligence programs—about why emotional intelligence should matter to you at every stage in your career and why it could be the key to your success.

Many people have heard the term emotional intelligence but don’t really know what that means. What is the one thing you want people to understand about emotional intelligence?

I would like everyone to know that emotional intelligence can be learned. And that, regardless of where you are in your career, or your life, everyone has the potential to grow in big ways emotionally. The other thing I’d want people to know is that those who have higher emotional intelligence—through their awareness and their development—experience greater career success. A big part of career success is more than a title; it’s also about how you resolve differences and how you meet challenging situations so you can make smarter decisions.

Emotional intelligence is not something that you either have or you don’t? You can develop the skills needed to improve your emotional intelligence?

Yes, that’s a common myth. Emotional intelligence (also known as EI or EQ) is different from cognitive intelligence or IQ. Some functions of cognitive intelligence—such as short-term recall—tend to peak in your later teens, so the full, raw horsepower of your cognitive abilities is short-lived. EI is long-lived. It continues to grow, and it will grow faster if you consciously develop that muscle.

So our gauge for career success needs to broaden significantly beyond achieving a title or position?

Where most of us live is in our day-to-day responsibilities. We may aspire to something bigger, but (an understanding of emotional intelligence) allows us to work better with one another daily. Our world is so flat now through technology that we all work with others of diverse thinking, styles, cultures and geographies. Emotional intelligence allows you to do that more efficiently and more effectively. It helps you get smarter about how you use emotions in terms of everyday leadership and coaching; develop awareness about other people’s emotions and about how to manage your own emotions; and manage difference in conflict effectively.

What is the biggest benefit of emotional intelligence when someone is starting their career, when they are mid-career and when they are nearing the end of their career?

I will start backwards with my answer. When you are toward the end of your career, reflection is a huge benefit for a seasoned leader—knowing what’s important to you, knowing what legacy you want to leave behind and helping to mentor others so they can grow in their career. Reflection is also great in terms of planning your next steps in life because retirement could very much be a beginning. Someone who is smart with emotions is going to be able to transition themselves to the next phase of their life. And that could include continuing on as a mentor, volunteering or pursuing a hobby.

If you are mid-career or in a mid-level position, it can really help accelerate your career. Someone can reach a manager or director level by the time they’re in their 30s, and then they can plateau. Getting smart with emotions can help you navigate to that next phase. When you grow in your career, you rely less on the technical aspects of your work and more on the interpersonal relationships, and you need to be able to flex and work with all different levels of people. This can help you accelerate—or get unstuck—and it can also just help you have a more satisfying and productive experience.

For younger people, emotional intelligence is a way to anticipate the question, “What did I wish I knew 20 years ago?” Using emotions in smart ways, you can work through those times when you don’t know what question to ask. For example, if you have peers and you get promoted to supervisor, a common challenge is how do you then manage, supervise and lead your former peers? How do you create a new path so it can help you to position yourself and accelerate your career? It’s a great time to become more self-aware as far as knowing your gifts and being able to work with people from different backgrounds.

The concept of emotional intelligence was explored as early as the 1930s, but it gained significant traction from Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Have the tenets changed significantly since then?

Research has been confirming a lot of the beliefs in terms of how we learn and grow. Emotional intelligence isn’t static. The opportunities to grow as a person through social intelligence are huge. And the number of resources available to help facilitate that learning has grown significantly.

What has changed are some of the tools that help us to understand EI. For example, with the advent of the MRI—and our ability to understand how the brain works—we understand better how to deal with ambiguity, how to deal with uncertainty, how to deal with stress and how to better manage stress.

Another change is that many of us are experiencing cognitive overload because we are overstimulated with information that we are constantly trying to process. The acceleration and overload of knowledge can create feelings of restlessness, and too much stress can lead to the overproduction of the hormone cortisol. This can have a negative impact on our attention span and on our ability to think straight and remember. Emotional intelligence plays a huge role in being able to manage yourself and your impulses among the distractions, which also helps you relate better with people.

How did you develop expertise in leadership and emotional intelligence training?

I started my career in the social sector by overseeing training programs in the nonprofit arena for staff and volunteers who work with at-risk populations. I also spent more than 20 years working in organizational, talent and leadership development inside corporations and three Fortune 500 companies in the life sciences. Five years ago, I opened up my own leadership consultancy.

Emotional intelligence is a core offering as part of my business. It helps people get smarter about how they use emotions in terms of everyday leadership, coaching others, communicating effectively and managing difference in conflict.

You began teaching some aspects of emotional intelligence as lead instructor of CSUSM’s Supervising Employees program four years ago. Why has Leading With Emotional Intelligence been added as a full, six-week program?

When we discussed the value of offering this program through the university to the community, it became clear that Leading With Emotional Intelligence is a natural next step for individuals in the Supervising Employees program. We’ve also brought the program to businesses in the North San Diego County community.

By developing awareness of your own communication style, you not only gain insight into yourself, but you can then consider how other people are approaching a problem and how you might need to adjust your style to motivate them. To be a successful people leader, you have to start by being a self-aware leader yourself and by consciously becoming more adaptable to different people and situations.

For more information about the Leading With Emotional Intelligence program, please visit