Intellect is important, but emotional intelligence is gaining attention as necessary for great leadership. Read on for why it matters, its surprising dark side, and whether you can actually train to be emotionally intelligent.
Marketing and finance departments are traditionally considered strange bedfellows, but not at HESTA. The industry superfund for health and community services has 140 employees across the country and each department sees eye-to-eye. Sound too good to be true? Sophie Sigalas, HESTA’s executive of people strategy, says the latest engagement survey backs it up. “Our success comes down to emotional intelligence,” she says. “It’s embedded in everything we do as an organisation.”
The term emotional intelligence (EI) – or emotional quotient (EQ) as it’s often known – defines the ability to identify and manage your own emotions, as well as those of others. The term was popularised in the 1990s by American psychologist Daniel Goleman, who sought to determine its impact on business leadership. While intellect is important, Goleman found that the most effective leaders were those with high levels of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.
A key to collaboration
As an emphasis on collaboration and partnership in business becomes greater, more companies are turning to EI as a means of harnessing collective wisdom. However, accommodating different perspectives, ideas and egos isn’t always easy.
“No two people see the world in the same way,” says Harrold Burman, management consultant and accredited trainer with Genos, which specialises in emotional intelligence programs. “Any event seen through different lenses and interpreted with different values will produce possible areas of conflict.”
Burman says emotional intelligence in the workplace is often stymied because people prefer to talk ‘above the line’ rather than below it.
“Above the line are the facts and figures, whereas below the line are the assumptions and emotions,” he explains. “People are generally more comfortable talking above the line but assumptions and emotions are more critical than figures because if an underlying assumption is incorrect, it doesn’t matter what number you put up on a slide.”
Can you improve your emotional intelligence?
Dana Eisenstein, director of Mindscape Consulting, which aims to make businesses more competitive through EI, says that while much of our emotional ability is determined in early childhood, EI can be improved – if people are willing to change.
“You do have people who are uncoachable,” says Eisenstein. “Could you imagine coaching Donald Trump in emotional intelligence? I don’t think it would work out so well.” But for those who are willing to learn, Eisenstein says self-awareness is where you start and the first step is to document your emotions and get thoughtful feedback.
“We’re often unaware of how others see us,” she says. “Building a culture where there is accurate feedback and reflection can highlight strengths and weaknesses and increase emotional intelligence among staff.”
Eisenstein sometimes begins with one-on-one coaching and then brings a group together to discuss collaborative models such as ‘choice map’, created by American executive coach Marilee Adams. The map is designed to help people identify when they are on a ‘judger’ path, blaming others, and when they are on a ‘learner’ path, considering their own feelings and those of others.
“The judger tends to be our default,” says Eisenstein. “But we can switch paths by asking ourselves questions about how our behaviour might be affecting others. I always give groups a choice map to pin up, and doing that starts to build a language of collaboration in the workplace.”
The dark side of EI
Emotional intelligence can help people to better understand themselves and others, but it can also have a dark side.
Recent research from Kyoto University found that EQ could increase one’s ability to manipulate others. “Emotional intelligence itself is neither positive nor negative, but it can facilitate interpersonal behaviours for achieving goals,” says researcher Yuki Nozaki.
Eisenstein agrees that there is a dark side to EQ. “I think anything can be used as a weapon if you have ill intent,” she says. “You can’t control people’s intentions. You can invite them to consider what their values are and what drives them but, at the end of the day, they’re going to make decisions for themselves.”
Eisenstein adds that workplaces that value emotional intelligence tend to weed out the manipulators quickly. “EQ can only be used as a weapon for the short term because people pick up on it when it’s being used for self interest.”
Emotional intelligence in action
It’s in recruitment where gauging emotional intelligence can be most useful and lead to fewer hiring mistakes. Being alert to emotional cues such as how well a candidate handles nerves and responds to questions, and how they react to non-verbal signals such as nods, smiling and eye contact. Ashley Goodall, director and chief learning officer at consulting firm Deloitte, says people who are honest about themselves in interviews show a high level of emotional maturity. “People with high EI would answer honestly the question, ‘How do you get around one of your weaknesses?’” he told monster.com.
At HESTA, emotional intelligence is an essential requirement of all employees. The superfund uses psychometric testing to assess candidates’ ability to empathise with others. “We look after the health and community services sector, so it’s imperative that we employ people who can identify emotional signals in others,” explains Sigalas.
Emotional intelligence is also core in change programs at HESTA. “We focus on the emotional aspects of change, how that emotional journey can be different for everyone and what it might look like in terms of behaviours,” says Sigalas.
She believes EI is fundamental to the high level of employee engagement that HESTA enjoys. Its latest engagement survey received a 95 per cent response rate from staff, and the overall result placed the organisation in the top decile when benchmarked against a database of hundreds of Australian employers.
“We have all the processes in place in terms of recruitment, training and development,” says Sigalas. “EI starts with the leadership team and carries right through the organisation. Like anything, you need to keep investing in it and you need to have the right people throughout the business to exemplify what it means.”
Learn how to apply the skills of emotional intelligence and improve your impact, influence and resilience. To learn more about AHRI’s short course “Applied Emotional Intelligence,” click here.