What NYC Mayor Eric Adams thinks about emotional intelligence and leadership

Emotional intelligence turns out to be the Number One criterion New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams looks for in his top officials. At the same time he downplays more common qualifications like academic achievement and experience in government. Why? 

“If you’re emotionally intelligent, you can better understand what people are going through,” Adams told the New York Times.

Eric Adams
Eric Adams

“If you don’t understand going through COVID, losing your home, living in a shelter, maybe losing your job, going through a health care crisis, if you don’t empathize with that person, you will never give them they services they need,” he added.

The importance Adams places on emotional intelligence as a measure of job candidates, the Times article points out, reflects his experience growing up Black in a working-class neighborhood in Queens, and climbing a career ladder from being police captain to state senator, and eventually Mayor-elect.

Adams’ definition of ‘emotional intelligence’ aligns with my own.

He names managing one’s emotions and handling oneself well in whatever situation a person encounters. He sees such ‘people skills’ as more important than, say, an Ivy League college degree, or academic intelligence in general.

I think both cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence matter for effective leadership, and I wince when people exaggerate the import of emotional intelligence.

The other day I saw online the idea that emotional intelligence accounts for “80% of success.” Not so.

For most positions, especially leadership, the relevant cognitive or technical skill set is a threshold ability – one you need to get and keep the position. But what makes someone a standout in that position is due in large part to emotional intelligence.

A growing body of research now strongly supports the benefits for any organization of having emotionally intelligent leaders and employees. 

But it’s not always easy to spot emotional intelligence in a job candidate – after all, they’re trying to look their best. I recommend interviewing in confidence people they work with now or have worked with in the past.

Adams is not alone in recognizing how much emotional intelligence matters for leadership.  Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank, made a similar point about emotional intelligence. He was talking about what to look for when promoting or hiring, and put it this way: “Would you want your kid to work for this person?”