Emotional intelligence and leadership
Sean Davies - Egon Zehnder International
 
In last month's article, my colleague, Damien O'Brien, discussed the leadership competencies required for global management. In his paper he briefly mentioned the importance of an overarching competence called emotional intelligence (E.I) and its influence on team leadership and personal leadership. In this article, we discuss emotional intelligence in more detail and look at the impact it has on workplace performance.

Although an extension of the theory of 'social intelligence', identified by E.L. Thorndike in 1920, the concept of emotional intelligence exploded on the corporate scene in 1995 after the publication of Daniel Goleman's bestseller Emotional Intelligence. Goleman followed with another bestseller in 1998 entitled, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Egon Zehnder International assisted Mr Goleman with the preparation of the second book and our Firm was discussed in detail as an example of an emotionally intelligent organisation. The theories and concepts developed by Goleman and others with respect to emotional intelligence have strongly influenced the way our Firm measures and evaluates effective leadership at an individual and organisational level.( Refer to The Focus online article; A systematic approach to successful hiring and retention by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz. Also The Focus Online article; The hidden force by Daniel Goleman.

What is emotional intelligence?

When considering effective leaders, most of us can quite readily think of examples from the sporting arena. If pressed for reasons for this view, our answers are likely to include comments such as 'performs well under pressure', 'sets very high standards for him/herself and the team', 'makes the most of his or her ability always giving 100%' and 'a good team player'. In simple terms these are all characteristics of emotional intelligence. Goleman describes a model of emotional intelligence comprising four domains and twenty competencies in his most recent book, The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace. The four domains are self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management. The first two of these domains are personal. Self awareness is characterised by a deep understanding of one's emotions, strengths and weaknesses, an ability to accurately and honestly self-assess. Self management is about the control and regulation of one's emotions, the ability to stay calm, clear and focused when things do not go as planned, the ability for self motivation and initiative. The second two domains are social, and concern a person's ability to manage relationships with others. Social awareness covers empathy for example, in the ability to consider employees' feelings in the process of making intelligent decisions either on a one-to-one basis or as a group. Relationship management covers the ability to communicate, influence, collaborate and work with colleagues.

"Emotional intelligence has an enormous impact in the workplace..."

For some time we have recognised the importance of these components of emotional intelligence to those who go about their 'work' on the sporting field and intuitively we have understood their importance in the more traditional workplace. However, it has only been in recent times that strong empirical evidence has been gathered which highlights the enormous impact high emotional intelligence can have in the workplace. Researchers have gathered data from hundreds of companies and thousands of executives measuring the importance of individual emotional intelligence competencies, as well as the clusters of emotional intelligence competencies that make up each domain. Goleman's own findings are typical. When he compared star performers with average performers in senior leadership positions, he found that nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors.

"EI is the sine qua non of leadership..."

As Mr Goleman wrote in the Harvard Business Review 1998, 'it's not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as threshold capabilities, that is they are entry level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.'

How do you measure emotional intelligence?

Like most professional competencies, high emotional intelligence will be reflected in a person's behaviour in the workplace. A 'special test' for emotional intelligence is therefore not necessary as a rigorous performance management system will include an assessment of the key components of emotional intelligence. At Egon Zehnder International our approach to executive evaluation is driven by a large body of research which indicates that the most effective way to evaluate workplace performance is through structured behaviourally-based interviewing and 360o reference checking conducted by high calibre, trained evaluators. Careful definition of the key competencies and their behavioural indicators will ensure that the process evaluates such things as the way an executive controls his or her emotions during times of stress or the way he or she interacts with colleagues (including superiors, peers and subordinates). Consultants at Egon Zehnder International routinely perform such evaluations in the course of completing assignments in the area of management appraisal or executive search. (Refer to The Focus Online article Management appraisal - competing for competence by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, Bjorn Malmgren and Jorg Ritter).

"High level employees over-estimate their own EI..."

Interestingly, in the context of leadership, recent studies by Sala (2001, www.eiconsortium.org) demonstrates that employees at senior levels in the organisation are more likely to have an inflated view of their emotional intelligence competencies, and less congruence with the perception of others, than lower level employees. Sala proposes two explanations for these findings. Firstly, that 'it's lonely at the top' and executives higher in the organisation have fewer opportunities for feedback as there are fewer people above them to provide such feedback and, secondly, it may be that people are, in general, less inclined to give constructive feedback to more senior colleagues . Nonetheless, the importance of emotional intelligence to business performance and the likelihood that senior employees have an inflated view of their emotional intelligence merely highlights the importance of well developed and well executed performance management systems that measure emotional competencies.

Can you learn emotional intelligence?

Our traditional education system has in the past focused on the three 'R's and the development of our cognitive skills. Therefore it is not surprising that whilst a few people may have naturally high emotional intelligence, most of us need some skill development in this area. Fortunately, Goleman and others have shown that the bulk of scientific research in this area supports the view that emotional intelligence can be learnt.

Developing your emotional intelligence skills is not something you can learn by reading a book or an article. It takes training, practice and reinforcement. In the course of our work we often have occasion to give executives feedback on their performance and management style as an outcome of behavioural-based interviewing and 360 o feedback. Whilst many executives find this confronting and threatening, especially if they have little experience in receiving feedback, it is undoubtedly the first step in developing one's emotional intelligence as it brings attention to gaps and development opportunities.


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