If leadership was simply a job description, or a list of tasks and functional responsibilities, emotional intelligence might not be significant. But it is about more than that, explains Elaine Wilson, managing consultant at ASK Europe plc.
Leadership is essentially a relationship, where the leader accepts responsibility for their own fate and those that they manage, and inspires others to achieve their potential. The best leaders demonstrate self-awareness, an understanding of their impact, and an empathetic wisdom in their interactions.
In 2010, The Work Foundation published an empirical research report, Exceeding Expectations: The Principles of outstanding leadership. Among its findings was the assertion that the best leadership is about “us”, not about “here’s my way of doing things and my vision; you engage with it”. Outstanding leaders, it found, seek to understand individuals and their motivations and differences. They recognise that the value of opportunities for dialogue with team members lies in meetings, processes and procedures, as they are channels to better understanding and greater trust. These interactions are also opportunities to seek feedback on their own performance, and their impact on others.
What the report did not mention by name was emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, who was one of the first to coin the term, defines emotional intelligence as the “capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and our relationships”. His research proved that high emotional intelligence is a common characteristic of great leaders, and that a person’s EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) has far greater impact on their effectiveness than their IQ.
To some extent, emotional intelligence can be seen as innate, in that it is a capability that most people will increasingly develop with age (up to the age of around 50), as the experience of life and personal interactions provides a combination of wisdom and perspective. This is not to say, however, that this development cannot be accelerated. Demonstrating high emotional intelligence requires a range of short-term, tactical and dynamic skills, which the individual can bring into play as the situation warrants. While experience is one way to improve mastery of these building blocks, training and coaching can both be used to deliver improvements.
Any development activity that provides insight into personal preferences, styles and manners of social interaction can be helpful in developing an individual’s emotional intelligence.
360-degree instruments, or psychometric instruments such as FIRO-B® or MBTI®, are used in many leadership development programmes to stimulate increased self-perception. They may be particularly valuable for those moving into leadership roles from positions that have been based more on technical expertise than abilities in softer skills, such as influencing, motivating or negotiating. The introduction of these elements into “expert to leader” interventions can be an effective way of familiarising future leaders with key capabilities for the roles they will adopt.
The Emotional Quotient Inventory
More specific tools are also available. The Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), based on more than 20 years of worldwide research, examines an individual’s social and emotional strengths and weaknesses in the 15 key areas that have been proven to contribute to proficiency in complex business activities, such as conflict resolution and influencing others. The EQ-i model is also available in 360-degree feedback format, offering the opportunity to understand others’ perceptions of your emotional intelligence.
Facilitation and follow-through support allow the reportee to build on the insights provided and accelerate subsequent development. This approach can counteract the possibility of tools based on self-reporting being ineffective. Overly negative or positive self-perception can significantly colour individual responses, and the tendency of those most in need of developing their EQ tend to have “blind spots” in their own self-awareness, and self-evaluation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy without external support. If reading situations and one’s own responses to them is an area for development, it should not be surprising that “self-diagnosis” may not be the optimum route.
As with any psychometric instrument, facilitation in the interpretation of its outputs can help the individual to understand their personal results and profile, particularly where aspects of the results are potentially uncomfortable. While emotional learning is not about personality, feeding back and clarifying any summary responses from it requires tact and sensitivity.
The most effective method of accelerating emotional learning development is often through coaching, which can play an effective role in two realms: the intrapersonal (which requires openness and a willingness to explore personal – and potentially difficult – matters), and the interpersonal (where a confidential and private environment provides the safest setting to explore situations that may involve colleagues and workplace circumstances or relationships). Given the focus of any such coaching, “chemistry meetings” to explore needs and goals, and ways the coach will work to support their exploration, are particularly important.
Emotional learning coaching is not a remedial action, and EQ and IQ are mutually complementary. As Steven Stein and Howard Book wrote in their book, The EQ Edge, “you must have a certain baseline IQ to understand what EQ can do for you, and to put in the time and effort required to enhance your skills”. However, organisations contemplating investing in coaching for emotional learning may also want to note another of their research findings, that while IQ predicted between 1% and 20% of success in a given job, EQ was responsible for between 27% and 45%.