The Female Advantage in Leadership: EQ

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Talent Scientist, ManpowerGroup

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, concerns the ability to understand and manage your own and other people’s emotions; it is the best single measure of people skills. Individuals with higher EQs are generally more effective in leadership roles. Despite the small gender differences for EQ, as a group, women tend to have higher EQs than men do. The effect has been reliably found across virtually all measures of EQ. In addition, three important leadership competencies that are enabled by higher EQs have been found at higher rates in women: transformational leadership, personal effectiveness, and self-awareness.

Transformational leadership

Both male leaders with higher EQs and most women leaders display a more transformational leadership style. With this style, the leader focuses on changing followers’ attitudes and beliefs and engaging them on a deep emotional level rather than telling them what to do—think Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey. Leaders better able to identify and manage emotions are also better able to motivate others, and most of the variability in transformational leadership arises from levels of EQ. Transformational leaders excel at turning a vision into an actionable plan for change, and they are strong role models for their subordinates and followers. Moreover, leaders and other people with higher EQs are also better at the transactional elements of leadership such as assigning tasks, monitoring and managing employees’ performance, and setting rewards and incentives. A recent study showed that gender affects leadership outcomes and effectiveness because of the gender differences in EQ. Largely because women have higher EQs, women’s teams are more engaged and outperform those led by men. Perhaps more surprisingly, even leadership styles purportedly associated with men, such as entrepreneurial or disruptive approaches, are more likely to emerge in higher-EQ leaders.

Personal effectiveness

Female leaders have more empathy than male leaders do. Regardless of the type of empathy evaluated, most women, from a young age, have more empathy than men have; this difference between genders is larger than for most other personality traits.14 Empathic leaders’ ability to see problems from other people’s perspectives makes them less self-centered and more flexible in problem solving. A big part of personal effectiveness, including resilience, is self-control, and decades of psychological research show that from an early age, women display higher levels of self-control than men do, not least because girls and women have less license to be themselves than men do.  In leaders, self-control is an important antidote to abuses of power and other toxic behaviors. In fact, most antisocial behaviors are partly indicative of people’s inability to contain their short-term impulses—instant gratification—in favor of less problematic and more beneficial long-term goals.


Self-awareness has historically been defined as introspection or the process of looking inside yourself to enhance your self-knowledge. While this aspect of self-awareness is no doubt useful, a more consequential side concerns understanding how you affect others and, in turn, what others think of you. As the poet Maya Angelou noted, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” In that sense, self-awareness is really about other-awareness, and people with higher EQs are better able to understand how their actions affect and are perceived by others. Such understanding provides the foundations for any development and coaching interventions. 

About the Author: Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. He has published nine books and over 130 scientific papers. His most recent book is Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It)?