One of my favorite sayings is, "It doesn't matter how emotionally intelligent we are. What matters is how emotionally intelligent we can be." I use this mostly in two settings.
The first is when someone asks me about emotional intelligence assessments, when to take them, and how to use them. I don't believe that knowing your "score" does much good: people who score fairly well often think they're emotionally intelligent "enough" while those who don't score well often worry about how much they can improve. And, in my experience, neither person does much about it. In other words, judgement gets in the way of progress.
That leads me to the second scenario in which I use the saying. It's when I share the fact that research has concluded that we have a limited capacity for growth in our cognitive intelligence after the age of 18. On the other hand, we have an unlimited capacity for growth in our emotional intelligence through our lives, and even if we don't do anything to spur it, it typically continues to grow as we age (one reason why grandparents - on average - are simply "nicer" people than parents).
In our experience, simply learning about emotional intelligence helps us become more emotionally intelligent as leaders.
- When we learn about self-awareness, we spend more time reflecting and being introspective.
- When we learn about self-management, we think more carefully about what we say and do.
- When we learn about social awareness, we start paying more attention to the outer world.
- And when we learn about relationship management, we focus more on our day-to-day interactions in the workplace.
What led me to come up with the saying above was several years of running The Junto Institute and observing leaders grow through learning about emotional intelligence. That learning leads to practice. Practice leads to results and feedback. Results and feedback leads to growth and more learning, which leads to more practice, and so on.
In other words, it becomes a virtuous cycle: the more we learn, the more we practice, the more our skills develop, and the more likely we are to change for the better.
It doesn't matter how emotionally intelligent we are, or aren't, at the start of the process. All that matters is that we get better, and continue to do so.