Emotional Intelligence is a term that is in danger of being over-used and, as a result, over-simplified or used in the wrong context. It can seem like a foreign concept, possibly discarded as another ‘leadership fad’, and in some cases in reaction to misuse and over-generalisation.
Either way, at Blackmore Four we are not seeing EI substantially or explicitly used in mid-sized businesses as an important means for developing effective leadership and teamwork.
Why should we pay attention to emotions?
We all have emotions, we all express our feelings differently and our emotions and emotional reactions are an important variable of how people work together. Emotions ultimately form part of how effective leaders, teams or organisations function, i.e., how well they perform.
In times of significant change and uncertainty, the intensity of emotional reactions cranks up a notch because our natural (emotionally driven) instincts tend to override our rational (logic driven) thinking and determine our subsequent behaviour (fight, flight or freeze). When faced with explicit or implicit threat – in the context of work, that might be a threat to our freedom in making decisions or to the type of work we enjoy and ultimately to our employment – our emotional reactions prime our subsequent behaviour.
Even in times of relative clarity and stability – remember that?! – we still have so many drivers of ambiguity that prompt emotionally different responses. Information overload, contradictory evidence and complexity all result in ambiguity, and to a degree provoke fear as a response to that. Communication doesn’t always materialise as intended and is seldom received in the way it is transmitted – fraught with ambiguity and misunderstanding – causing a level of emotional response.
The impact of technology
Away from what we hope to be a relatively temporary, yet extreme, impact of the global pandemic, there is a far greater, ongoing cause for concern in our workplaces (virtual or otherwise). Technology is changing the way we live and work, think and feel. The rise of very intelligent, self-teaching and multi-talented technology means many operational and administrative functions are now increasingly performed without or with minimal human intervention. The impact is growing, broadening and having far-reaching consequences for people at work. A 2-year study from McKinsey suggests that by 2030, intelligent agents and robots could eliminate as much as 30% of the world’s human labour, displacing the jobs of as many as 800 million people.
“More than 30% of high-paying, new jobs will be social and ‘essentially human’ in nature.” (Deloitte)
However, with change also comes opportunity. It brings about new ways of thinking, fresh approaches and new demands for specific, social and emotional skillsets that can’t be replicated by technology. According to Deloitte, employers should now focus on exploring opportunities that take advantage of human capabilities, which includes curiosity, imagination, creativity, social and emotional intelligence.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
The concept of Emotional Intelligence was defined by Salovey & Mayer in 1990:
Emotional intelligence is “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour.”
Not only does Emotional Intelligence separate us out from machines, but it is also an important component for effective leadership. Daniel Goleman, one of the leading authorities on Emotional Intelligence and leadership, outlines its importance in the workplace:
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
Emotional Intelligence and leadership
Research by the Centre for Creative Leadership found that the key reason executives ‘fail’ in their role is down to ‘deficits in emotional competence’, which includes resistance to change, inability to work as part of a team and poor interpersonal skills.
Within the realm of business, especially amongst leaders, Emotional Intelligence is what truly sets people apart. In fact, it accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart from peers or colleagues with similar technical skills and knowledge.
“The Conference Board lists Emotional Intelligence, along with a number of other things that are aligned within Emotional Intelligence, as being the most common areas coaches are asked to help leaders improve on. Likewise, the World Economic Forum in its annual report on what executives see as essential skills for work in the future list resilience, stress tolerance, flexibility and influence – all parts of Emotional Intelligence.”
As recently as last week, Daniel Goleman published some updated thinking referencing the alignment of things we might have different names for, but that ultimately form part of the models of EI: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These components shape all elements and areas of leadership throughout the organisation and come into play in real-world scenarios:
Compassion is the capacity to gauge and understand an employee’s emotional state as well as an awareness of personal emotions. It is the inclination to be socially and emotionally conscious and respond in appropriate ways. A compassionate leader is someone who openly shows genuine care for their colleagues. For example, they may demonstrate mindfulness toward their colleagues’ workloads, aiming to strike a balance between assigning challenging yet manageable tasks and projects.
Active listening and encouraging opinion
Active listening is a skill that requires someone to fully concentrate, understand, remember and then respond to what is being said. In the words of Steven Covey, “Seek first to understand, before being understood”. Lending a listening ear welcomes others to share and is an invitation that does not exclude opinions that may be in contravention to personal perspective.
A leader who actively listens is able to do so without interrupting their colleagues, drawing out core elements of the conversation. They are able to reflect back upon information presented in a bid to seek clarity and understanding. Employees who feel listened to and understood are very likely to feel they can share their own opinions in a safe environment.
Flexibility is a skill as well as a behavioural style when adapting one’s approach in reaction to external cues. Technology certainly facilitates a person’s capacity to work flexibly, given our access to technology virtually anywhere across the globe and rapidly evolving knowledge, alongside web-based applications available to make our work (and personal) lives more efficient.
Flexible leaders are those who are unafraid to question or challenge the status quo, who have the appetite for new ideas and change (recognising how critical it is to respond to market changes), and understand the intangibles in business – such as work cultures, the informal network, etc. – and adjust their behaviours appropriately with these insights in mind.
Innovation is the appetite to conjure up fresh ideas, as well as the preference toward facilitating the creative process of others whilst actively fostering an environment where real business problems can be tackled with creative solutions.
Leaders who develop an organisation that embraces creativity, free thought and expression will create longevity for the business, as they set themselves apart in the market.
People who develop Emotional Intelligence communicate more effectively, are better able to cope with conflict, become effective team players and can increase levels of performance.
People who develop Emotional Intelligence become more effective leaders.
Change is here and it isn’t slowing down. Are you ready?
Do you feel your teams have everything in place to be effective leaders in a world of ambiguity and automation? Do you feel there are areas that need more focus or development? This is a significant time of change and never has it been more important to stay ahead of the curve.
Blackmore Four offer specialist advice and tailored solutions to businesses looking to sustain or improve the effectiveness of their organisation. Our approach is based on a deep understanding of human behaviour at work and an ability to identify and address the specific leadership and organisation development needs of your business. We work with ambitious business leaders to achieve outstanding levels of performance through periods of growth or significant change.