Mixed emotions

Emotional intelligence is undoubtedly an important life skill and one that is getting more attention in workplace settings. But to what extent is it an essential quality for leaders to develop and demonstrate? Graham Roadnight, CEO of The LCap Group, shares his thoughts

The concept of IQ (intelligence quotient) has long been a familiar measure of intelligence, assessing our ability to solve problems using logical thinking. Despite criticisms of its oversimplification of human intelligence, it has stood the test of time, helping us to determine an individual’s cognitive abilities and assess their suitability for all sorts of situations, including job roles.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a far newer concept. Coined by psychologists John Mayer and Peter Solvey in the 1990s and popularised by Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, EQ refers to our ability to understand and regulate emotions – not only our own, but the emotional responses of others as well.

IQ vs EQ

There has been much debate as to which of these is most valuable. Many would argue that knowledge is power and that so-called ‘book smarts’ play a crucial role in a person’s success, whereas advocates of the ‘street smarts’ concept would suggest that having high EQ allows a person to successfully navigate life’s challenges and become a top performer.

Rather than viewing these characteristics and skills as competing with one another, it is more sensible to view them as complimentary. A balance of the two, particularly for anyone in a leadership role, is needed to achieve great things. In terms of the workplace, a useful way of thinking of it is that IQ gets you the job; EQ helps you keep it.

EQ for leaders

Leaders with high EQ are able to identify, assess, manage, and express their emotions in a way that is sensitive to the situation or context they are in. They are also able to perceive and assess the emotional responses of those that they work with and can use emotions to facilitate thinking and decision-making.

The skills and competencies associated with high EQ have become desirable leadership qualities and predictors of success. In fact, the World Economic Forum reports that 90 per cent of top performers in the workplace score high in emotional intelligence, and that EQ is directly linked to earnings – the higher a person’s EQ, the higher their salary is.

Running a successful business requires more than just knowledge and understanding of the operational side of things; it also involves the ability to establish a compelling vision and communicate that vision to others. A great leader creates a positive culture, garners support, resolves conflicts, drives change and inspires the workforce. All of which enable the realisation of that vision. None of this can be achieved without emotional intelligence.

Disadvantages of EQ

It would be easy to assume that the more emotionally intelligent an individual leader is, or the more emotional intelligence a leadership team possesses, the more successful they will be. However, the impact of emotional intelligence in the workplace is far more complex and it is important to consider the potential disadvantages that high levels of EQ could bring to a team.

While high levels of emotional intelligence may be conducive to a harmonious working environment, harmony is not necessarily conducive to productivity, creativity, or development. According to the Harvard Business Review, the kind of non-conformist and unconventional thinking needed to challenge the status quo and drive change may be lacking in those with high EQ. More concerned with building strong relationships and collaborating with others, the highly emotionally intelligent leader is likely to adapt their behaviour to their environment, constantly self-monitoring rather than taking the lead and making potentially unpopular decisions.

Not only this, but if too much value is placed on specific attributes and skills such as EQ, businesses run the risk of engineering teams of people that are all similar to each other. Lack of diversity within a leadership team leads to a lack of opposing voices, a reduction in creative ideas and encourages complacency. The best outcomes come from a diversity of skills, knowledge, and experience; the same can be said for emotional intelligence. For a high-functioning, high-performing leadership team, variance in the levels of emotional intelligence will be key.

Finding the right balance

Leadership insight tools are a great way to discover the strengths and weaknesses of an individual leader, as well as the complementarity of a leadership team. There is plenty of scope to engineer the optimal leadership team and achieve balance by using data to evaluate strengths and weaknesses, identify gaps and make meaningful changes.

Most psychometric assessment models, such as Myers Briggs, focus on testing for personality – not necessarily the best indicator of how well someone will perform in their role. However, understanding a person’s default behaviours using behavioural modelling such as PACE, a tool underpinned by the academic expertise of leading occupational psychologist Professor Adrian Furnham, offers insight into how an individual will react in certain situations, as well as how they will impact the people with whom they work. And that is something critical to achieving diversity and inclusion within leadership teams.

Graham Roadnight is the CEO of The LCap Group, an insight-led, leadership analytics and executive search group for high growth, investor-backed companies. He oversees strategy, corporate and business development, focusing on projects that enhance short-term and drive long-term shareholder value. Roadnight has 20 years’ experience in growing private founder-led businesses with a mixture of organic and inorganic development

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