The EI Factor – How Emotional Intelligence Impacts Leadership and Organisational Performance

Introduction

John was a junior manager with no direct reports in an audit firm and he was promoted to head of department of a team of fifteen employees. His promotion was based on his technical excellence, commitment to the organisation and professional integrity. At first he was very happy with his career progression but as months went by he became increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied with his new role. Moreover, members of his team were becoming demotivated and demoralised. The team became riddled with minor conflicts that escalated to a point where a rift was created and two opposing groups formed within the team.

John felt both lost and disillusioned. He never imagined he would need to ‘waste’ so much of his time dealing with people issues. As he himself admitted, “I chose a career in accounts because numbers are predictable and follow the rules of logic and rationality!” To make matters worse, John was feeling like he was falling behind on the technical developments in his field of specialisation and he became concerned that his staff had become more technically knowledgeable and up-to-date than him. This made him feel vulnerable and even somewhat threatened.

John’s team members felt confused. They had great respect for him and knew he was not only very competent but also a very fair and ethical person. So they could not understand how and why he was so disconnected from them and was failing to keep the team united and motivated.

The situation between John and his team is a common one in the corporate world especially those organisations whose employees are primarily but not exclusively technically oriented such as those who work in engineering, IT and finance. It is for this reason and many others, that emotional intelligence has become a core requirement for any leadership position and a reliable predictor of success in a supervisory, managerial or high-level leadership role.

This claim is supported by a strong body of research that supports the idea that emotional intelligence is key to the success of any organisation.

The studies found that effective managers regarded and dealt with employees as individuals, with dignity and respect, focusing on developing and nurturing already existing talents. Organisations that value professionalism, friendliness, courtesy, cooperation, fairness, forgiveness, honesty and integrity are more likely to nurture strong commitment from their employees.

In recent studies, the single most important contribution to employees’ feelings of engagement, empowerment and satisfaction has been the quality of the relationship they have with the leaders of the organisation. These factors were in turn critical to positive bottom line results on productivity and profit.

The conclusions of numerous research studies clearly demonstrate that besides having sound technical knowledge, effective organisational skills and good strategic thinking, today’s leaders need to be person-centred, sensitive to the relationships they create with employees, aware of their own strengths and vulnerabilities, and able to communicate with honesty, clarity, and openness. They need to know the language of feelings and feel comfortable dealing with intense emotions created by change, insecurity, uncertainty, anger, conflict, disappointment and fatigue. In other words, today’s leaders need to be ’emotionally intelligent’. This is both an attitude and a skill and is one of the major qualities that motivate people to work well, teams to function effectively, and organisations to thrive.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

In the 1930s strands of research and theory were emphasising the importance of non-cognitive factors in helping people to succeed in both personal life and the workplace. In the organisational field, ‘consideration’ was found to be an important aspect of effective leadership. The research suggested that leaders capable of creating mutual trust, respect, and a certain warmth and rapport with members of their team were more effective in achieving results.

In 1990, John Mayer and Peter Salovey created the term ’emotional intelligence’. They defined it as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”.

In 1995 Daniel Goleman published his seminal book called Emotional Intelligence – why it can matter more than IQ. Since then, the concept has been popularised and researched worldwide. Goleman describes emotionally adept people as those who “know and manage their own feelings well, and who deal effectively with other people’s feelings”. Goleman developed a competency framework that identified twenty emotional intelligence skills that were key to effective leadership. These competencies involve the ability to deal with the human aspect of leadership rather than the structural, procedural, or the strategic aspects, although these are also important.

The competencies are organised in two main categories, intrapersonal and interpersonal and are interrelated and deemed essential for effective leadership. For example, the ability to recognise accurately what another person is feeling enables one to develop a specific competency such as influence.

Goleman identified four emotional intelligence competency clusters. The first two clusters are awareness clusters. These deal with recognition of emotional movements in oneself, others, and organisations such as morale and motivation. The second pair of clusters are action-oriented in terms of managing oneself and managing other people. The table below highlights Goleman’s leadership competencies.

Self Awareness Social Awareness Self Management Social Skills
Emotional Self-Awareness Empathy Self-Control Developing Others
Accurate Self-Assessment Organisational Awareness Trustworthiness Leadership
Self-Confidence Service Orientation Conscientiousness Influence
Adaptability Communication
Achievement Orientation Change Catalyst
Initiative Conflict Management
Building Bonds
Teamwork and Collaboration

Leaders with the right attitudinal disposition and a working knowledge of emotional intelligence can make a significant difference in the way they manage people. In his more recent work Goleman created a distinction between the intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies and he termed the latter Social Intelligence. According to Goleman, when it comes to leading others, social intelligence is more critical.

Based on examining many years of research, the Gallup Organisation concluded that employees are highly motivated by the quality of relationships at work, especially with their leaders. They want to feel valued and cared for in the same way as they would in a family. Second to the pay packet itself, the primary needs that have to be met are emotional. It is as important for employees to find approval and self-esteem at work, as it is to see a salary and career path developing. These findings further strengthen the case for emotional intelligence.

My personal experience in working with various organisations shows that too often employees complain they feel like they are just a number; not listened to; their opinions and ideas ignored; they do not feel understood, valued, or respected. On a more fundamental level, many employees say they are rarely thanked, acknowledged, or even consulted in decisions that directly impact their work. Most of these comments are aimed at their managers, not at the nature of the work itself. Of course, there are other challenges such as cutthroat competition, increasing complexity of work, the need to reduce costs and others, however these can be dealt with much more effectively in an atmosphere of trust, respect and supportive teamwork.

Is Emotional Intelligence something we can develop?

The emotional centre of the brain called the limbic system exhibits a high degree of neuroplasticity. This means that with the right disposition and willingness we can improve and constantly develop our emotional intelligence competencies. Various personal and professional development programmes exist that focus on developing key emotional intelligence competencies. These programmes normally offer the intrapersonal and interpersonal dimension of emotional intelligence. Other avenues for developing emotional intelligence are counselling, coaching and mentoring.

Can an organisation develop emotionally intelligent culture?

A key factor in building an emotionally intelligent organisation is the endorsement from the leadership team that emotional intelligence is critical to success. Just as individuals have the ability to develop emotional intelligence competencies on a personal level, these competencies can also be developed as an organisation. This is made possible when such competencies are integrated in the HR practices, company policies, values, behavioural standards, and the training and development plan of the organisation.

Leaders who invest in acquiring emotional intelligence competencies in practical workshop settings achieve the most successful results. Leading by example by living and practicing the competencies is critical in motivating others to change, and it is essential for the development of an emotionally intelligent organisation.

Can emotional intelligence be measured?

Just like IQ, emotional intelligence is measurable by means of validated and reliable psychometric tests. The leading available tests are the MSCEIT (Mayer Salovey Emotional Intelligence Test) and the EQi-2.0. The MSCEIT is an ability test with right and wrong answers that produces scores for one’s competence in Identifying, Using, Understanding and Managing emotions as well as an overall score. The EQi-2.0 is a self-report type tests that measures five emotional intelligence composite scales. These are: Self-perception; Self-expression; Interpersonal Skills; Decision-making; and Stress-management. These are then further expanded into fifteen subscales, each producing their own score apart from an overall emotional intelligence quotient score. Both tests are extremely useful instruments for coaching and training purposes as well as for recruitment, talent management and succession planning.

Conclusion

The competencies associated with emotional intelligence have now been researched for many years, and there is a consistent, impressive, and growing body of information suggesting that these competencies are important for success in many areas of life particularly work and relationships. Leaders in particular seem to benefit from the deep understanding of self and others in their dealings with people, and from the ability to balance the rational and intellectual with the emotional components of their attitudes, behaviours, and decisions.

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