From the Playground to the Boardroom: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

During a recent visit to my son's 4th grade classroom, I was pleasantly surprised to hear many of the teachers discussing how to increase the level of empathy and social skills in their students. Along with the typical conversations regarding academic lesson planning and homework assignments, teachers were conversing about how to foster an environment that includes appropriate feedback, open communication and students who are self-aware of their actions and how they affect those around them. I quickly realized that the teachers were engaging the principles of Emotional Intelligence (EI) – how cool! I, for one, never remember being taught these important principles in school; rather, the messages we received were "do as I say" and "get your homework in on time."

As a parent, it is encouraging to hear a different message being professed and to know that my son is being taught the important components of EI. Additionally, with the ever increasing levels of violence and upheaval in our public schools, I am hopeful that the behaviors of EI will have a positive impact on our school systems and our children….who are, by the way, the future leaders of tomorrow.

We recently did an audit at Training By Design and I was intrigued to find that the topic of Emotional Intelligence still continues to be a hot one. Since this concept has been around for a while, I thought that it would now be getting the short shift; however, I am glad to report that this is not the case. In fact, more than ever, organizations are looking for their leaders to focus on EI and to not only be aware of their own emotions and the effect they have on others, but to be able to successfully manage their emotions and the emotions of those they lead.

Like in my son's school, it is quite a different concept from the traditional leadership model that applauds relentless driving of others, with little concern for the emotional fallout that may cause. So, how would the message of Emotional Intelligence be received in your workplaces? As leaders, what kind of emphasis are we putting on these behaviors and their tie to success in our organization? What is your organization's EI quotient?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Although there are many books, articles and seminars out there on Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman's book, Working With Emotional Intelligence, is the one that has most resonated with me. Goleman categorizes five key components of Emotional Intelligence that are easy to understand for any team or organization. They are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Simply defined, each has the following meaning:

Self-Awareness: knowing one's internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions and having the willingness to share them.
Self-Regulation: managing one's internal states, impulses and resources, and taking responsibility for said.
Motivation: ability and emotional tendency to inspire, guide or facilitate the reaching of goals.
Empathy: awareness of others' feelings, needs and concerns.
Social Skills: adeptness at effecting change through listening and communication; openly communicating and nurturing relationships.

Focusing on these components as essential elements for a manager to be successful in your organization means that you are insisting that your leadership team has a balance of knowledge and compassion. Countless studies have shown that the skill of emotional intelligence is what sets the great leaders apart from the merely good ones.

How do I know if my managers have it?

My experience tells me that the best way to find this out is by asking the people closest to each manager. As a leadership team, first decide the top attributes of EI that you most value and then define what they mean to your organization. Create 6-8 questions around those attributes and ask three people to respond for each manager whom you want to assess. Once the feedback is complete, it is the perfect opportunity to sit with the manager, share the feedback, and make a plan for moving his/her EI quotient forward.

How do I measure it?

Well, you can certainly measure it utilizing the system above. Additionally, companies who are serious about adopting this way to lead make it an integral part of their performance management systems. The components of EI should be part of every performance conversation you have, and you should develop specific questions into your formal review process to assess these components. Even more importantly, the language of Emotional Intelligence should be a part of your organization's cultural language, so you are continually speaking about it both formally and informally.

Try this:

Do some research on which emotional intelligence framework or philosophy you can get your arms around as a leader. Again, I think Goleman's book is great, but one click on the web and you will see lots of information and sources on this topic. Then, have your entire leadership team read the book that most resonates with you or go to a seminar together. After everyone has read the book or attended the seminar, begin the conversation with the group on where the concept of EI fits into your organization. This conversation will start you on the path of changing the theory of EI into the behaviors that you crave to move your leadership to the next level.

One more thought

The theory of EI obviously does not replace good grey matter. IQ is important too, but I have found that great leaders have both a healthy IQ and EI – what a powerful combination!

Are we on the verge of a new way to lead that combines intellect and ability with empathy and awareness? I certainly hope so. I believe that it is this type of leadership that will propel our companies forward in a much more productive and prosperous way, as well as lead to a decrease in turnover and an increase in empowerment in our people.

What is the Emotional Intelligence of the leaders of your organization?

This is a valuable question to ask and something that all of us should be thinking about. So, get busy, and let me know what you find out.

Grace Andrews • Executive Coach/Corporate Healer • President, Training By Design • Boston, MA • gandrews@training-by-design.com • www.training-by-design.com

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3 Comments

  • Ari Novick, Ph.D.

    After spending a number of years working in the public school system, I can see the benefits of teaching emotional intelligence in the public school system. It would be great if this was part of the curriculum for school across the nation.

  • Joshua Freedman

    Grace,
    I am likewise encouraged! I find this school / work crossover fascinating. I do a great deal of emotional intelligence training, I help lead the world-leading organization exclusively dedicated to emotional intelligence, and I've seen this dynamic all around the world. When we visit our children's schools the issues of emotional intelligence become crystal clear. Then some of us go back to work and say, "Hey! We need this here too!!!" -- and visa versa.

    I guess it boils down to this: emotional intelligence is about our core human-ness -- and when we focus on developing EQ skills it makes a difference everywhere in our lives.

    Warmly yours,
    - Josh
    Joshua Freedman
    COO, Six Seconds Consulting Group

  • George Anderson

    I visited your blog today for the first time and I will return. I am particularly interested in emotional intelligence and anger management. It is encouraging to have emotional intelligence introduced in preschool or grade school.
    The Texas state legislature is now debating a bill to mandate anger management for all middle school students as a measure to reduce violence in high school and adult life.