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Are Women More Emotionally Intelligent Than Men?

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And will women naturally emerge as the organizational leaders of the future?

These days many voices answer "Yes" to these questions. For example, by the year 2018, according to the Chartered Management Institute in the UK, the workplace will be one where the demand for "female" management skills will be far stronger than today. The world of work will be more fluid and virtual, and women will move up the chain of command because, as Claire Shipman and Katty Kay write in Time, "their emotional intelligence skills may become ever more essential."

Actually, that depends on what you mean by "emotional intelligence." If you equate the term with empathy alone, then women have a decided advantage. But the details are more interesting -- and important in their implications for grooming outstanding leaders -- than that simplistic equation reveals.

First, there are many models of emotional intelligence, from the one first proposed in 1990 by two Yale psychologists, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, through the version I described in my 1995 book by that name and in my work since, to what by now are many others. While all vary in details, they all agree on one premise: emotional intelligence describes a range of self-mastery and interpersonal abilities. Empathy is but one of these.

My own model of leadership emotional intelligence posits four domains:

* Self-awareness, e.g., knowing your strengths and limits, and so having a well-grounded self-confidence.
* Self-Management, e.g., staying motivated and focused, keeping disturbing emotions from disrupting your efforts.
* Interpersonal Awareness, e.g., the various kinds of empathy.
* Relationship Management, e.g., collaboration and teamwork, resolving conflict, persuasion.

There are a host of studies showing one or another gender difference in this range of abilities. Of the three main varieties of empathy -- cognitive, emotional, and empathic concern -- women on average outdo men when it comes to the second kind, sensing a person's feelings in the moment. On the other hand, women on average do less well than men when it comes to self-confidence.

Remember, though, that when we talk about any such behavioral differences, we're looking at small advantages in largely overlapping bell curves. A given woman may be more self-confident than most men, and a given man might be more emotionally empathic than most women.

Then there's the fact that people can improve on these abilities, especially as expressed at work. When I talked with Naomi Wolf about her work with early career women, she described several ways to boost their self-confidence. And emotions expert Paul Ekman told me about how his methods for upgrading the ability to read other people's emotions, which he finds works powerfully for men and women alike.

The good news for anyone who wants to improve key strengths to be more effective as leaders at work comes from Ruth Malloy, who heads leadership coaching for Haygroup in Boston. Their research found that while on average among people in organizations there were decided gender differences, when you looked among the most effective leaders -- those with business results in the top 10 percent -- the gender differences had disappeared. The women were every bit as confident as the men, and the men as empathic as the women.