Emotional intelligence (EQ) has been deemed a more powerful predictor of a person's success than his or her intelligence (IQ). The reason boils down to the simple fact that human relationships are at the very fabric of business. Being able to better understand, connect, empathize, and negotiate with others is crucial in our personal ladder climb. Investing in your own EQ is an investment in yourself as a leader. Emotional intelligence is indispensable in leadership.

In order to truly understand what goes into EQ, it is best to break the term down in terms of the traits we can easily recognize.  Best selling author and science journalist, Daniel Goleman, conceptualized EQ using a model comprised of five different factors:

  1. Self-awareness - the ability to know one's emotions, strengths, weaknesses

  2. Self-regulation - the ability to control one's emotions and impulses

  3. Social skill - the ability to manage relationships such that it moves people in the desired direction

  4. Empathy - the ability to consider other people's feelings, especially when making decisions

  5. Motivation - the tendency to be driven to achieve for the sake of achievement

Of these five factors, self-awareness is one that is associated with a common visible trait when it is exhibited by some of the most likable and powerful people. Self-awareness is the ability to understand one's own emotions and the resultant effect on others. An HBR study revealed that self-aware leaders are confident and often candid. They have a holistic understanding of both their strengths and weaknesses. With self-awareness, leaders can focus on their strengths and hire teammates who excel in areas they struggle with.

Research suggests that a tangible way to spot a self-aware leader is by looking for a self-deprecating sense of humor. People that can admit to their failures or shortcomings with a smile are more approachable. Some may think that admitting to failures or faults reveals vulnerability, but really the best leaders must constantly judge their own capabilities, as well as those of others. They must understand when they need help and proactively surround themselves with people that excel where they fall short.

Being so comfortable and confident that you can laugh at yourself builds trust within a team. Leaders with this magical combination of confidence and self-awareness bond more tightly with teammates by de-emphasizing the differences in status between themselves and their employees. If trust and transparency are important components of your relationship with your team, then exposing some imperfections can be a great way to open up. 

This, of course, does not mean you should spend your time dragging your accomplishments in the dirt and highlighting only your shortcomings. It also does not mean you should make light of any serious situation or failure. It does, however, mean that you should make a conscious effort to humanize yourself to your team.

If an elevated EQ wasn't enough, new studies have shown that a self-deprecating sense of humor actually promotes psychological well-being. While this may seem far-fetched at first glance, it actually makes a lot of sense. Perfection is a tough, albeit impossible, persona to maintain. Failure can flood you with anxiety, especially related to social acceptance. Taking the first jab at yourself when you stumble alleviates that pressure. They may be laughing at you, but at least you made the joke.

People that are too focused on their polished image often waste hours fixated on the wrong things. Laughing at your imperfections allows you to recognize them, accept them, and then move along.

"In particular, we have observed that a greater tendency to employ self-defeating humour is indicative of high scores in psychological well-being dimensions such as happiness and, to a lesser extent, sociability," said Jorge Torres Marín, co-author and researcher on the study on humor and well-being.

Hiring individuals with a high EQ can result in an immediate positive impact on any team. Testing for EQ entails more than quizzing for raw intelligence. Candidates shouldn't be expected to display a self-deprecating sense of humor during the interview process, but you can spot signs of them being self-aware. These individuals are able to own up to their past experiences, both their successes and shortcomings, in a concise and non-defensive manner. Ask them about their biggest mistake (do not accept humble brags). Press them on a time when emotions got in the way. Can they admit to imperfection?

Emotional intelligence is one of the most powerful barometers for success and being self-aware is a necessary trait. Your ability to laugh at yourself may not only bring your team closer, but it may also alleviate some of the anxiety associated with chasing unattainable perfection.