is EQ more important than iq for health, happiness and success?

By learning how to identify, understand and manage emotions in a positive way, you can help members, clients and staff perform better and achieve more.

Just as a fit body has endurance, strength and flexibility, a fit mind also has distinct capacities: mental agility, attention, situational awareness and ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ). But what exactly is EQ, and how can it benefit fitness professionals, managers and business operators?

EQ is the ability to recognise your own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and to label them appropriately. It is the ability to identify, use, understand and manage emotions in a positive way. EQ enables you to empathise with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

Unlike IQ (intelligence quotient), which tends to remain relatively constant throughout your life (although not as fixed as once thought), EQ can be more easily developed and honed over time.

The EQ-success association

EQ information can guide thinking and behaviour, and it just might be that EQ matters more than IQ when it comes to your health, happiness and life success.

Being in touch with your feelings allows you to manage stress levels and communicate effectively with other people, two skills that enhance your life both personally and professionally. EQ has also been proven to make you a better leader.

So why does this affect the fitness industry? Because we are leaders of change. If you could develop yourself so that you were a more effective leader, would you do so?

Daniel Goleman first brought the term ‘emotional intelligence’ into popular consciousness when he wrote a book on the subject and then applied the concept to business in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article.

Goleman researched 200 global companies and found that while the traditional leadership qualities of intelligence, toughness, determination and vision were necessary for success, they were insufficient. Truly effective leaders, he found, were also distinguished by a high degree of EQ. In addition to traditional leadership skills, they possessed self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

Goleman found direct ties between EQ and measurable results. His article remains the definitive reference on the subject, and his findings presented some dramatic conclusions. Although intelligence was a driver of outstanding performance, cognitive skills such as ‘big picture’ thinking and long term vision were found to be particularly important. EQ proved to be twice as important as the other qualities for successful leadership and strong performance.

EQ in the world of fitness

The relationship between EQ and effective performance, especially in leaders, is very useful when your primary objective is to lead others to a healthier way of life. If you can read the person you are dealing with effectively, you can prescribe the appropriate exercise to achieve the best results – in the most appropriate manner. Similarly, you will be able to interact with class members or clients in a way that will make them both be, and feel, more successful in achieving their goals.

Les Mills group fitness programs use EQ psychology in their GFI instructor training and also in their advanced coaching models (AIM1 and AIM2). DISC personality profiles (Figure 1) are also used as a tool to encourage instructors to tailor their coaching to suit the range of members in the room. The team at Les Mills has researched the kind of personality types likely to attend each of its class styles, and used this information to train instructors how to best communicate with these specific personalities. By using smart EQ skills, group fitness instructors can ensure that each class member feels engaged in the class and leaves feeling empowered and successful.

Identifying and increasing your emotional intelligence

So, what are the characteristics of emotional intelligence – and how can you tell if you have high EQ? Table 1 displays what to look for.

You may instantly recognise certain traits in yourself, while others may be less clear cut. If you find yourself identifying more strongly with the low EQ characteristics, the good news is that you can improve your EQ so that you can understand and guide people towards lasting exercise adherence in the way that best suits them. Let’s look at five easy, but essential, ways that you can do this.

1. Acknowledge how you feel about experiences

The way you feel about any given experience has a big effect on your mindset and the way you behave. By identifying your feelings you are placing yourself in a position to evaluate whether your response is ‘appropriate’. Could anger about traffic congestion, for example, be substituted for sympathy for the driver of the broken down car, and gratitude that it isn’t you?

2. Pay attention to your body

Your mind and your body are not separate, they affect each other. An intense emotion will be expressed physically in your body. Consciously acknowledging, for example, that stressful reactions to situations make your body tense, may prompt you to try and alter your response.

3. Notice the effect you have on others

Understanding your own emotions is only half the battle when it comes to EQ; you also need to understand the effect you’re having on other people. Consciously listening to people and observing their responses to what you say and do will let you know if you are communicating and leading effectively.

4. Be open-minded and agreeable

When your mind is open through understanding and internal reflection, it becomes easier to deal with conflicts in a calm and self-assured manner.

5. Read people’s body language

Practice being more observant and picking up on the less obvious ways that people communicate their emotions. A client may say that they are happy with your proposed training program, but their furrowed brow and crossed arms tell a different story.

Where can EQ take you?

What could you achieve by honing your EQ skills? Ours is a service industry, a people industry, so imagine how many lives you could change for the better by having a better emotional understanding and connection with your members and clients, and your team.

Members and clients

EQ is a powerful tool for connecting with members and clients, motivating them and improving their results.

Actively work on becoming more aware of your own array of daily personal emotions. These emotions will positively or negatively affect your ability to inspire and lead those around you. A group fitness instructor or a personal trainer is a role model, so well developed EQ will put you ahead of the game. Listen well, react accordingly and then use the appropriate persuasive tools to connect and engage.

Managing teams

When it comes to managing a team, emotional intelligence is an incredibly valuable skill. Understanding and responding appropriately to different emotions, overcoming stress in the moment, and being aware of how your words and actions affect others are powerful leadership attributes.

Leading your team with EQ will help you improve your business results by enhancing your ability to recognise and regulate your teams’ emotions. By harnessing the power of EQ, you can create an environment of successful collaboration and cooperation within the workplace, helping your team reach their true potential.

Understanding how the brain operates and how the emotional response system works can also help managers to recruit the ‘best’ team members for maximum success. With a carefully selected team, your business can also improve member retention. Macquarie University Sport and Aquatic Centre has been running regular EQ training sessions for leaders since 2008. Through developing their EQ skills, team members have become better at avoiding the communication deficiencies that create disengagement, distrust and doubt. This has resulted in improved retention rates.

A leader with highly developed EQ will effectively gauge the needs, wants and expectations of their teams and their members. The strong tribal club culture is a reflection of a leader and a leadership team with a sound EQ awareness.

Use the tips in this article to improve your EQ skills, and then, when you feel ready, put yourself in situations where you can flex your EQ muscles to drive your team, clients and members to higher levels of performance and productivity.

It just might be that EQ matters more than IQ when it comes to your health, happiness and life success. If so, because EQ can be learnt and developed, you have complete control of these outcomes. You, and everyone you come into contact with, have everything to gain.


Leisl Klaebe is Acting Health and Fitness Coordinator and Group Fitness Team Leader at Macquarie University Sport and Aquatic Centre in NSW. Prior to her fitness career, she worked in the film and television industry, and she brings her vast array of connection, engagement and entertainment skills to her fitness work.