Emotional intelligence in the driving seat

Saturday, 01 April 2000


    What makes a good leader? Why do some CEOs not succeed at their job even though they are highly intelligent and skilled? Daniel Goleman (above) says an emerging school of behavioural thought believes the key ingredient for high performing executives is not IQ or technical aptitude, but EI - emotional intelligence.

    The term emotional intelligence has been used in academic circles since the late 1980s, but it took American psychologist and journalist, Dr Daniel Goleman, to release his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1995) for the concept to capture the public's imagination. Goleman, a former Harvard graduate and behavioural science contributor to the New York Times, has since written a second book, Working with Emotional Intelligence (Bantam 1998) in which he argues that workplace competencies based on emotional intelligence play a far greater role in high performance than do intellect and technical skills. Moreover, Goleman claims that individuals and companies both benefit from cultivating these capabilities. Drawing on research from some 500 leading businesses, he concludes that emotional intelligence is twice as important as IQ plus technical skill combined. When IQ scores are correlated with how well people perform in their careers, the highest estimate of how much difference IQ accounts for is 25 per cent. By contrast, says Goleman, emotional intelligence accounts for more than 85 per cent of star performance.

    What EI is Interest in emotional intelligence in the workplace has grown dramatically in recent years, particularly in America where EI has spawned a movement in schools, home and the community as well as the corporate environment. A similar level of enthusiasm is evident in Europe and interest is increasing rapidly in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. But what do psychologists really mean by emotional intelligence? Is it just another term for so-called people skills and, if so, why all the hype? Some psychologists describe emotional intelligence as street smarts of sorts. Goleman defines it as "the capacity for recognising our feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and managing emotions in us and in our relationships". These are soft skills, but he insists there are hard consequences if they are ignored in the corporate world. To illustrate his point, he cites the example of global consumer products firm that was not assessing emotional competence as part of its recruitment process. Within two years of hiring, some 50 per cent of all division heads left the firm after initial search costs of $4 million. When the firm started assessing potential candidates for emotional intelligence, only 6 per cent of the division heads left within two years.

    Why emotions are different While such general attributes, as maturity, commonsense and people skills have long been associated with effective managers and employees, Goleman claims to be among the first to draw on recent scientific research to link emotional intelligence to high performance. He says that while cognitive and technical skills evolve from only one area of the brain - the neocortex - emotional intelligence involves an integration of several areas of the brain including the higher thinking centres. "The thinking brain, which regulates technical skill and cognitive ability, can operate without involving emotions," he says. In other words, emotionally intelligent behaviour requires all the brain power used for intellect plus more. Our thinking and feeling need to be integrated.

    "When you are facing a decision, the sense of right or wrong is as important as any other data you might bring to the table," he says. "If it feels right it probably is . . . feelings are fact". Who needs it? It is generally recognised that managers and leaders need high emotional intelligence because they represent the organisation to the public and they interact with the highest number of people within and outside the organisation. Moreover, they set the tone for employee behaviour and morale.

    In a recent paper in the Harvard Business Review titled What Makes a Leader, Goleman argues there are certain competencies within the emotional intelligence framework that are particularly desirable at the corporate executive level. These include self-awareness, self-management including being able to handle our emotions and keep our impulses under control (Bill Clinton take note) achievement drive and empathy. This last competency is considered essential for leaders who operate in today's diversifying and global marketplace. "Cross-cultural dialogue can easily lead to miscues and misunderstandings," says Goleman. "Empathy is an antidote. People who have it are attuned to subtleties in body language, they hear the message beneath the words being spoken." Increasing emphasis on matrix structures and cross-functional teams is another reason why empathy is so important. "A team leader must be able to sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone around the table," he says. There is not a single recipe for success in a leadership role. Nor is cloning the means to attaining an emotionally intelligent organisation. Rather, highly effective leaders can demonstrate quite different competency profiles. What is clear, however, is that successful leaders possess a balance across the four key components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skills.

    Teaching EI

    Are people born with certain levels of emotional intelligence or do they acquire these personal qualities as a result of life's experiences? Goleman claims research and practice clearly demonstrate that emotional intelligence (unlike IQ) can be learned; but not through a how-to-manual or a brief seminar. Nor does he recommend a twist on the popular white-water rafting experience or the executive pow wow in a remote mountain retreat. "Developing an individual's emotional intelligence (or that of an organisation) requires a different sort of approach," says Goleman who argues that such one-off programs are a waste of money. "American companies are wasting between six and 15 billion dollars a year on development programs in this area which simply do not work. They have no transfer of learning to on-the-job performance." Goleman recommends an emphasis on multi-level development and coaching initiatives, rather than one-off workplace programs. The aim is to produce sustained improvements in performance and create an emotionally intelligent organisation. In particular, a business that is more collaborative and cohesive than its competitors.

    Based on his analysis of successful development programs, he advocates using the working environment as the "classroom" for learning. While initial exposure to the concepts of emotional intelligence might take place during an external workshop, and would typically include some assessment of participants, change in behaviour can only be tested in the workplace. The challenge for organisations is to help managers understand what they need to change and to motivate them to try out new things. For this to be effective, the organisation needs to be supportive and there should be coaching and mentoring available. Often, participants work in mutual support groups to act as sounding boards and advisers for one another. In other cases external coaches play this role to help individuals monitor their progress against their improvement agenda. Air New Zealand has started such a program, which focuses more on the internal culture and operating climate to ensure delivery of the brand promise. Air New Zealand believes that it is critical that they integrate EI competencies into all aspects of the management of their people

    Assessing EI

    When it comes to recruiting the best people, it is not surprising that Goleman believes that IQ tests are a poor indicator of career success. He cites a Harvard study on entrance exam scores of people in the business school, the medical school and the law school. In each case entrance exam scores had zero correlation with how the students did in their field. It is relatively simple to assess IQ, and technical skills can be ascertained from past performance and referees reports. Assessing emotional intelligence is not yet quite so easy, though there are several tests available and more in development. Many of these are reliant on self-assessment, and thus assume possession of one of the crucial emotional intelligence competencies (accurate self-assessment). Others are designed to measure the underlying psychological construct and, as with IQ, depend upon hypothesised or predicted links to performance. Identification of demonstrated emotional intelligence requires evaluation by a third party, typically involving 360-degree assessment or in-depth interviewing by a skilled practitioner. This latter technique was utilised by the global consumer products company to reduce turnover in senior managers.

    Goleman says it is still important to hire technically-minded executives. But these are mainly threshold abilities; they're entry level requirements most executives already have. They may get a person through the door of a company, but abilities like leadership, collaboration and teamwork, self-confidence and initiative - the emotional intelligence-based abilities - ensure that he or she will thrive.

    Daniel Goleman has an exclusive alliance with the HayGroup which offers Emotional Intelligence programs to interested organisations

    * Publication available through AICD Publications Services. (ph) 8234 3333


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