Emotional Intelligence – Why Is It Good For Business?

This topic has captured the imagination of the business world especially over the last decade or so where we are now studying what it takes for people to be able to step up and for a leader to be able to really lead.

So what is Emotional Intelligence (EI)? In a nutshell, it’s about being aware of our thoughts and feelings, managing these, and therefore being able to connect more effectively with those around us. It’s about how we manage our personality if you like.

Interestingly, research shows that our mental intelligence (ie., IQ) predicts no more than 25% of our performance (JE Hunter, “Validity and utility of alternate predictors of job performance,” Psychological Bulletin, 96, 72-98). So, what predicts the other 75%? In the mid 1990s, Daniel Goleman popularized the notion of Emotional Intelligence and indicated that this was the main factor contributing to job performance. “We are being judged by a new yard stick; not just how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also how well we handle ourselves and each other” (Working with EI, 1998).

Further, Goleman (“What Makes a Leader,” Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec. 1998) went on to say that:

“When I compared leaders who were linked to strong performance with average performers, 90% of the difference was attributable to emotional intelligence rather than technical skills”

“My entire education over-developed my IQ skills and nowhere along the line did anyone ever teach me social skills, interpersonal skills – more importantly, emotional skills – which are the centre of developing trust.”

In fact, Goleman went so far as to state that,EI is twice as important as any other factor in predicting outstanding employee performance.”

In summary, what does this all mean?

  • In recent years, many different aspects of emotions, motives, and personality that help determine interpersonal effectiveness and leadership skill have been placed under one comprehensive label of Emotional Intelligence.
  • These factors are related to success in life
  • Helps us understand why some people do well in life and others struggle or fail
  • Distinct from IQ (cognitive intelligence)
  • Distinct from our personality which is relatively fixed (probably since birth)
  • EI can be developed and changed

The evidence for the effectiveness of EI in the business arena in particular, has been steadily mounting, but there have been those who have purported otherwise:

  • EI is something you are born with

As hinted at above, EI is based on attitudes and habits, neither of which you are born with. The big benefit therefore is that EI can be developed by anyone.

  • EI is just a fad

It certainly was popularized in the 1990s, but it has been used widely in education since the 1980s and different terms have been around for similar concepts since 1920.

  • EI is really just naval gazing

Developing EI certainly demands self-awareness, but it goes beyond that to doing something about your thoughts and feelings and taking action that is observable to others.

  • EI is just soft stuff

As is the way with many things, the soft stuff is really the hard stuff. Having an open and honest conversation with someone, delegating work that is not popular, disagreeing with someone, resolving conflict are all hard for most of us.

  • EI is just soft skills

EI is much more than soft skills. Skills such as assertiveness can support EI, but need to be backed up by deeper attitudes and changes in behaviour.

  • Women are more emotionally intelligent

There is evidence that females are better than males at empathy and relationship skills for example, while for some other factors (eg., achieving and reaching goals) males tend to do better.

  • EI is simply about being nice to others

EI is definitely about having regard for others, but this does not mean that you have to like their behaviour. The difficult part is still valuing a person despite maybe disapproving of their behaviour.

Case Studies:

James came to see me because he worked in a government department, but had now been passed over twice for a promotion. He said he was confused because he put his head down and worked hard. He didn’t take breaks like others might or hang around the photocopier or the watercooler and chat. He got on with his work. He said that he didn’t like to bother his boss and only ever talked to his boss if there was a major problem with his work that he couldn’t fix. He was somewhat shy and didn’t attend any of the functions that the social club organized.

We discussed the importance of EI. James agreed to try some different things since what he had been doing to date certainly hadn’t been working. He had various “homework” tasks to do including, saying hello to people each day, letting his boss know at least once a week what he was working on, visiting the watercooler and making conversation and attending at least one social function over a three month period.

James reported that he was feeling much happier at work, and that people were more friendly towards him. He hadn’t had a chance to apply for any jobs, but he was feeling more confident about the prospect.

Frank on the other hand, had been recommended to receive coaching by the HR Manager in Sydney. Frank was a State Manager who had a reputation for “not suffering fools gladly.” The turn-over in his senior management team was high and he was unsure why this might be so. We instituted a 360 degree feedback for Frank so that he could receive information regarding his personal performance from those above him, his peers, and his direct reports. The results showed his inability to listen and empathise, his poor communication skills and his inability to develop team relationships. Frank was initially offended at the results suggesting that they were all “out to get him,” but later agreed to see if he could change his behaviour. We will institute another 360 survey in about 6-9 months time to see how he has progressed.

Goleman put forward the notion that there were 5 major components associated with EI, namely, Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skill. See attachment to this article titled, “Emotional Intelligence: The 5 Core Components at Work” which outlines those dimensions, but also highlights the “hallmarks” or factors which go to makeup each of these 5 components.

  • How do you rate yourself for each hallmark?
  • If you had to choose one or two of these hallmarks to work on over the next few weeks, what would they be?
  • How would you know that you’d been successful?
  • Who would keep you accountable?

Are you up for this?

“If you want to be something different – you have to do something different.”    Author unknown