In 1995, psychologist Dan Goleman wrote an international bestseller on the brain and behavior science. His book, Emotional Intelligence, made the bold assertion that "for leaders, the first task in management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of managing and knowing oneself."

This essence of emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and the ability to recognize and understand emotions and how they affect others. More and more scientists are concluding that emotional intelligence (EQ) - not IQ -  is the most important characteristic in determining a person's success. Emotional intelligence is essentially the capacity to practice self-awareness and to better understand ourselves, which leads to more consciousness and compassion towards others.

There are many reasons why leaders and teams increasingly seek emotional intelligence skills when hiring individuals today.

With the constant drum beat for change in all aspects of our lives, people who can manage their emotions, work with a diverse range of people, and clearly see things from another person's point of view have the agility to innovate, collaborate, and lead change. New research shows that top performers in all walks of life have high emotional intelligence and make significantly more money than those who have low emotional intelligence.

Before I suggest several ways to improve your EQ, let's see how you stack up in the head and heart arena with a simple EQ self-assessment. Just ask yourself each question below and rate yourself on a 10-point scale (1 = low and 10 = high).

  1. When making a decision, do you start by considering how it will affect others?
  2. Do you stay cool and calm under pressure?
  3. Do you have relationships with a wide range of personalities and people of diverse backgrounds?
  4. Do you listen to understand (instead of listening to respond)?
  5. Are you open to feedback?
  6. Can you positively influence others?
  7. Do you accurately pick up on emotions in other people and intuitively understand what's really going on?
  8. Are you caring, compassionate, and considerate?
  9. Are you flexible and adaptable in most situations?
  10. Do you easily build rapport with others?

How did you do? Is there room for improvement? I bet the answer is yes, since that's the case for most people. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be developed. Here are four ways you can start building your EQ muscle today.

  1. Seek, invite, and strive for good behavioral feedback: While several ingredients are helpful for improving emotional intelligence, most of us are generally unaware of how others view our EQ. You can start to improve yours by just pausing and seeking feedback on your own behaviors. In many cases we have an accurate impression about how smart we are (IQ) thanks to testing, but our understanding of how empathetic we are is much less clear. Turn self-deception into ever-improving self-awareness.
  2. Develop a greater self-awareness of your triggers: Start with an in-depth understanding of what triggers you emotionally. Many times, we automatically respond without even realizing our reactions. Becoming more in touch with your reactions means you can create an early warning system of triggers to help reduce reactionary and spontaneous emotional responses.
  3. Explore the WHY: Putting yourself in another person's shoes is tough work. Our experiences are not theirs, so we must go further than simply drawing on our own experiences. True empathy means being curious about the why. Ask and explore real answers to questions like, Why does this person feel the way he does? Why do I feel different than she does? What is that person dealing with that I don't see? Actively convert self-focus into other-focus.
  4. Develop a keen sense of appreciation: Emotionally intelligent leaders serve by putting the needs of others before their own.  They understand that others helped them succeed and are grateful for it. Practicing gratitude builds emotional intelligence, as you become more focused on the actions of other people who have helped create success in your own life. Start the day by naming 5 to 10 things you are most grateful for. This will build your EQ by noticing what is going on around you and how other people's actions benefit you.

How do you think your EQ is perceived by the people in your life? What can you do to improve?