The Emotional Intelligence Paradox and the Top Books I Use When Coaching on Emotional Intelligence

What are the behaviors you see in leaders that cause you to say, “…now there is a lack of emotional intelligence”?

I have to be honest, over 80% of the time when my phone rings and someone wants to talk about my availability for executive coaching there is some element of emotional intelligence (EI) in the equation.  

Sounds of Diminished EI

Most of the experts in the emotional intelligence field say that the discipline starts with self-awareness. 

Self-Awareness is the conscious ability to know, think critically, and discern your character, motivations, desires, and emotions at all times. Now that is a tall order, but a discipline that is vital for us as leaders to master!  

My initial question to lead off the blog is premised around a “lack” of EI. In my experience, however, it isn’t that leaders are “train wrecks” when it comes to EI overall.  Far from it. For the most part, the leaders are bright, articulate, show good (if not great) executive presence, and can even be charming.  What I experience most often when going into an executive coaching opportunity is really just a strength overplayed.  In some cases, a strength overplayed on steroids.

I have really started to pay close attention to this “imbalance” of emotional intelligence and what it sounds like in organizations. Here are a few examples:

  • The hyper-competitive VP whose desire to win overtakes their care and compassion for others. They don’t know when to stop competing. The passion for winning becomes a mean streak and they just want to punish others even after they have clearly won the day.
  • The young leader who is so bent on high performance that they have no ability to attune to others concerns and hear where the “pitfalls” are. They have been rewarded for individual contribution their entire career and now find themselves in a leadership position, still feeling the huge need to do everything themselves.
  • The pastor of a church whose congregation is dwindling and they blame it on the economy, the lack of programming, or the worship leader. They look at everyone else and everything else as the problem but fail to ask themselves how they are the issue.
  • The perfectionist who throws a tantrum when things are not done exactly as they asked for it. They like power and success, but mostly they like control. There is a huge fear of failure that frames things not being exactly right as a collapse of the entire process rather than a learning of what doesn’t work.
  • The leader who cares so much about valuing people and how others feel that they can not make a hard decision.  Empathy is often misrepresented as sympathy, so difficult decisions become impossible to make because others feelings might get hurt in the process.
  • The IT leader who is so focused on process and guidelines that they can’t partner with others in the organization to even hear what their needs are. The default is always to a rule or a process or a guideline that takes precedence over understanding the user's needs.

Okay, so I think you get the idea. I could go on and on with these as I am sure by now you are either catching yourself in one of the above descriptions or just glad I didn’t type your particular “EI Imbalance” for all to read.

I think we all have these EI breaks from time to time, and becoming self-aware is the first step. Do you know this about yourself? Can you honestly accept your own feedback and recognize your need to change? It is a quite difficult aspect of leader development and frankly the reason most seek a coach to help them see what they can not.

My 7 Top Reads for Developing Emotional Intelligence.

I think one of the questions I get ask most often is framed around what people can read to get better at a certain aspect of emotional intelligence. So, here are my top picks using the Bar-On Model published by Multi-Health Systems as the framework. 

If you are wanting an overall increase in knowledge about emotional intelligence, my go to books are:

The EQ Edge & Primal Leadership. EQ Edge gives you an overview of a model for emotional intelligence and some practical development action steps. Primal Leadership is a classic in my opinion and emphasizes the importance of the mood and tone of the leader. Four styles are presented that are valuable in understanding how EI is expressed.


This realm really is about how you see yourself from a confidence and life goals perspective. My two favorites here are Executive Presence by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner.


This domain is about how one goes about communicating. I like Conversational Intelligence by Judith Glaser, which is about how to build trust and get results.  Another favorite here is a book of fiction by one of my favorite writers Fredrick Bachman. My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She Is Sorry is a great story of how a young girl learns to express herself. Even though the protagonist is only 8 years old, I think there are lessons of articulation for us all.


This category is so broad so it really is really hard to pick. I think the two I recommend most often are Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Thompson and Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein. Boundaries because often people are searching for “the lines” in interpersonal relationships and Humble Inquiry because the problem is often one person’s pride that drags relationships into the tank.

Decision Making

Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud is a favorite for this domain. This book really emphasizes the appropriate assertiveness side of communication and when leaders need to make tough choices with processes or people.  Because so much of our decision-making is about controlling impulses, one of the more practical self-help resources I have found is Zoe McKey’s Unlimited Mind: Master Critical Thinking, Make Smarter Decisions, Control Your Impulses

Stress Management

My go-to resource here is The Stress Effect by Henry Thompson. This book gives a basic understanding of where stress comes from, how our bodies react to it and some really good practical suggestion on both management and elimination of stress.  The other classic in this arena is Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. Since the Bar-On model puts optimism in the stress management domain I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this one.

What Are Your Recommendations?

Please let me know if you pick one of these up and if you find it helpful or encouraging. I guess you can let me know if you hate it too, but I will probably still keep it on my list.  Also, if you have favorites that would be helpful, let me know. I am always looking for a good read and to update my list.

If you are interested in emotional intelligence and want to become certified in a valid and reliable instrument click here and you will be directed to my website for more information.