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on Leading the Next Generation


The Top Predictor of Student Success Once They Graduate

I bet you have heard this scenario before.

A child is very smart in the third grade. They make good grades and seem to understand concepts more quickly than their fellow students. Teachers say: “That little boy is going to be a successful businessman one day!”

Or a student scores high on their SAT or ACT test, and gets accepted into an Ivy League school. Everyone agress — that young lady is going to be a huge success.

Then — in so many cases, they never reach their potential. It surprises us and we wonder how such a smart person could stall or fail to climb the corporate ladder.

Let me ask you a question. Do you know what single ingredient can foreshadow a student’s success once they graduate more than any other? This may surprise you. It is the ability to manage emotions.

When emotional intelligence was first discovered, it served as the missing link in a peculiar finding — people with the highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform those with average IQs just 20% of the time, while those with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time. This abnormality threw a monkey wrench into what many assumed was the source of success: IQ. Scientists began to pursue another ingredient to explain this — and years of research and countless studies pointed to the factor we now understand as: EQ or emotional intelligence.

Despite the growing focus on EQ, a global deficit remains in understanding and managing emotions. Only 36% of the people tested by TalentSmart® are able to identify their emotions as they happen. Even fewer are able to manage them. Emotional Intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, as well as your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. As I have stated before, the four categories are:

1. Self-awareness
2. Self-management
3. Social awareness
4. Relationship management

While we all experience so many emotions in our day-to-day lives, all of them can be categorized into five core feelings: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and shame.

So, the next time you wonder why you or that recent graduate just didn’t perform and succeed the way you expected, forget IQ for a moment. (We can’t do much about that anyway.) Examine the issue of emotional intelligence. It can be developed, and it predicts performance better than any other single factor. (For practical steps to build EQ, join this month’s edition of Leadership2Go.)

How would you rate your own EQ? How about the young people you lead?




  1. jgmo on February 8, 2011 at 8:37 am

    I am a Learning Consultant for our state’s largest not-for-profit Health Care Org. We train all of our leadership on Emotional Intelligence and how to help our employees develop in this area. Thanks for sharing Tim!

    • Tim Elmore on February 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Thanks for sharing with me! I’d love for you and your team to join us with Leadership2Go. I think you all would find this valuable info to help your team to continue to develop in this area. February’s lesson is about emotional intelligence. For more info, please check out: or I can get you in touch with one of my colleagues about the online mentoring community.

  2. John on February 9, 2011 at 10:21 am

    In the second paragraph, “aggress” should be “agrees” spell checkers wouldn’t find this but
    a grammar checker might. Speed reading blows past this. As far as the subject of the article,
    I agree totally. Students are in for a big let down when they are praised for minor achievements and grow in an emotionally inflated environment and after college are
    dumped into the real. Better to learn to manage your emotions early in life before it is too
    late to learn and you suffer failures in adult life.

  3. Photius on February 9, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Looking at my own life I’d say, “Yes, you are right.” My biggest creative failures were when I got hot under the collar; my biggest creative successes, I was cool as silk. (Not smooth, I said cool.)

  4. Ben Wall on February 10, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Tim, I love the article but I have a critical question for you. Where the research is to back up your claim about the #1 reason students succeed after they graduate? What study are you quoting in order to make that statement? Thanks for your good work!

  5. Helenest Pierre on April 7, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I agree with the article. However I am in the same camp as Ben Wall. I would love to refer to it with the research backing it up.

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The Top Predictor of Student Success Once They Graduate