Emotional Intelligence is a Key Success Factor for Managers: 7 Critical Situations
“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.” Daniel Goleman
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the most important success factors for managers. Cognitive abilities, technical skills and creativity all contribute to their success, but people skills often make the critical difference. Yet, when managers are selected, their EQ is often neglected or relegated to minor so-called “soft skills”, nice to have, but not essential. Technical prowess and specialized expertise are most often the decisive criterion of choice. As a result, technically competent individuals are often promoted to a management position without having the necessary skills to lead people (1).
What makes matters even worse and further compounds the problem, is the lack of training managers receive in emotional intelligence. Typically, the technical skills, already rather well honed, get the lion’s share of training budgets and time.
This is a huge mistake! The very effectiveness of any manager in charge of a team depends on this essential skill. As Google found in their Project Oxygen (called “Oxygen” because people are seen as the life blood of the organization!), their managers’ technical skills were far less valued by employees than their people skills. They were able to verify that workers do not leave organizations, they leave bad or toxic managers (2).
The consequences of neglecting the importance of emotional intelligence in the selection and training of managers are dramatic: Massive financial losses, employee demotivation and stress, poor customer care, high turnover, talents leaving the company, as well as a lack of innovation (3).
The good news is that, contrary to IQ and personality which get established early and remain rather constant, emotional intelligence is more flexible, it can be learned and strengthened through training, coaching and intensive practice (4; Goleman, 2005).
Emotional intelligence is a skill managers need to acquire in order to enable them to deal effectively with critical situations they encounter daily. Seven such situations where EQ, as revealed by research, is essential to achieve a successful outcome are outlined below.
In general the higher a position in an organization, the more EQ matters: for individuals in leadership positions, 85 percent of their competencies are in the EQ domain.” Daniel Goleman
Studies have overwhelmingly demonstrated the critical role EQ plays in leadership. It is one of five major dimensions that constitute transformational or servant leadership, one of the most powerful leadership styles. EQ is also an integral part of the personal core of effective leaders (5).
Successful leaders are aware of their feelings and their impact on others. Their capacity to regulate their emotions and their empathy permit them to maximize their influence and inspire others.
Effective communication and self-confidence enable high EQ leaders to impact others with their vision and long-term goals, as well as empower them to embrace change. Striving to develop others, helping them grow and being committed to their well-being are all crucial for moving an organization forward and engaging it in constant renewal and innovation (6).
2. Engagement and motivation
The most significant aspects of a thriving organizational culture entail fundamental components of emotional intelligence. Reciprocity is an essential building block for engagement: Without a genuine and caring relationship between managers and co-workers based on mutual trust and respect, employees will not commit to perform at the highest possible level. And continuous recognition of worker contributions and valuing their efforts is just as indispensable (7).
Perceiving meaning and purpose in their work, having the opportunity to use their strengths and experiencing achievements and mastery are the ingredients of intrinsic motivation that drive performance and engagement, as well as providing fulfillment and satisfaction.
Emotional intelligence increases corporate performance through the managers’ ability to inspire discretionary efforts and go the extra mile. Good working conditions and high employee morale, all heavily influenced by the managers’ EQ level, enhance the quality of products and services, talent attraction and retention, and ultimately, of course, customer satisfaction and better business results.
“No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them”. Stephen Covey
Perceiving and understanding our emotions and gaining control over them is a necessary starting point for building meaningful and long-term relationships.
Empathy, the ability to place yourself in someone else’s situation and understand how the person feels, is critical to be able to properly respond to other people’s needs. Inquiring about another person’s emotional state, paying attention and observing behavioral changes, mood switches, as well as identifying different reactions and changes in expressions and performance are ways to explore and grasp another person’s internal state. Showing compassion and an active interest in their concerns helps building rapport and reduce tension.
Good communication, clear and convincing messages, as well as active listening are all-important for managers in their role as representatives of the organization to the outside, as well as internally as team leaders and reporting to superiors. Being attentive to non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, eye-contact, tone of voice, body posture and gestures, is often more revealing than the content of a message.
Being open to others, to their ideas and needs, learning from them, emphasizing collaboration and team spirit will enhance relationships and productivity. So will flexibility and adaptability to change, looking for opportunities to innovate and initiate experimentation and learning from past errors and successes, as well as a positive attitude and optimism.
Google’s Oxygen project mentioned above recognized how much “soft skills”, good communication, listening and taking care of your team, impact employees’ self-worth, self-confidence and wellbeing, as well as their productivity (2).
“In a study of skills that distinguish star performers in every field from entry-level jobs to executive positions, the single most important factor was not IQ, advanced degrees, or technical experience, it was EQ. Daniel Goleman
One of the most important responsibilities of managers and a major challenge is to recruit competent staff. Talents and qualified workers are always hard to find, as are candidates whose competence represent the best fit with an opening.
As demonstrated by research, professional success and performance are strongly influenced by personal competencies, such as self-awareness and self-regulation, as well as social skills like the ability to create harmonious relationships.
Information regarding such EQ qualities that would help identify top performers, are usually not contained in a CV. Personal features such as fitting in, getting along with others, empathy, creativity and problem solving, enthusiasm, engagement and commitment must be elicited in interviews with the candidates.
Self-report measures of someone’s EQ may not be reliable. Inasmuch as EQ is an ability, a person may be able to figure out the right or best response for a given situation. Multiple evaluations by independent observers are likely to yield more accurate results. But it should also be noted that, just as any other skill, EQ can be misused, for example, to manipulate others (8).
Clearly the managers’ own level of EQ will play a critical role in the interviews. Their ability to listen carefully, ask probing questions, observing the candidates’ behavior, for example, will determine how much useful information about the candidate’s emotional intelligence they are able to obtain.
Finally, onboarding should be an integral part of the recruitment process. During this trial period, there are further opportunities to assess the new arrivals’ EQ and their potential for a “good fit” before they are hired definitely.
5. Team Building
“A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” Zig Ziglar
Managers are the pillar and soul of team building. Emotional intelligence is a fundamental skill managers must master if they want to be able to build a cohesive, high-performance team: Helping employees define their objectives and priorities, sensing what they need to grow and develop their strengths, using questions instead of affirmations, working towards shared goals and creating team synergy in pursuing collective organizational goals.
Managers with high emotional intelligence recognize their emotions and their impact on their team. They are aware of the contagious effects of a positive, as well as a negative mindset.
Encouraging and recognizing individual efforts and team contributions are important motivational factors, and respecting employees’ work-life balance and their commitments outside of work all contribute to their well-being and productivity.
Google found that their most successful managers invest a great deal of time with each individual. They empower their team, encourage autonomy and avoid micromanagement. They provide constructive feedback, express interest in their team members’ success and concerns including outside of work (2).
6. Conflict Management
“Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding.” Dale Carnegie
An important task often incumbent on managers is to help resolve conflicts between employees, between customers and employees or between themselves and a team member.
As research has demonstrated, mastering conflicts calls for emotional intelligence, taking into consideration people’s feelings on both sides of an issue, asking probing questions and offering solutions. Being assertive and avoiding the two extremes, a passive or an aggressive approach, is an effective way to handle conflict (9).
Related to conflict resolution, dealing with difficult personalities, be they customers or team members, is another major challenge managers are confronted with. In order not to lose a customer or significant contributions from difficult employees, EQ skills, such as tact, patience, openness and empathy, will need to come into play.
It involves distinguishing non-conformist behaviors from harmful or detrimental behaviors, as well as working together with competent people with whom you have little personal affinity.
Good negotiation skills, another characteristic of successful managers, also rely heavily on emotional intelligence, including a search for win-win solutions, where both partners may have to compromise, but each obtains results important to them.
“Experience is not what happens to you — it’s how you interpret what happens to you.” Aldous Huxley
It is difficult to imagine coaches who could function successfully without top EQ skills. Their thrust depends on accurate self-perception and self-management, their ability to establish meaningful and trusting relationships, as well as their empathetic capacities.
Studies have identified coaching to be a critical skill managers must master: “According to research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching…It will build stronger bonds between you and your team members, support them in taking ownership over their own learning, and help them develop the skills they need to perform at their peak” (10).
Google’s “Project Oxygen” places coaching on the very top of their list of eight managerial skills most appreciated by their employees. Holding regular one-to-one meetings, asking questions rather than giving directives and providing personalized, constructive feedback, are among the key attributes of successful coaching (3).
Bringing it all together
In all important situations where managers play a decisive role, such as in leadership, employee recruitment, engagement and coaching, team building and conflict resolution, their EQ represents a key ingredient of success. Yet, its importance is often underestimated and subordinated to technical skills to the detriment of their teams, their customers and the bottom line.
Emotional intelligence is centered on your awareness of your feelings and your actions and how they affect those around you. It calls upon self-control and the ability to perceive the emotions of others and respond with empathy.
EQ contributes substantially to financial success, higher productivity and creativity, lower turnover, talent retention and greater wellbeing. It can provide a significant competitive advantage in this highly competitive market situation.
Not only is it essential for managers to acquire EQ skills for themselves, they must also strive to strengthen their team members’ emotional intelligence.
The good news is that, in contrast to IQ and personality, EQ or soft skills can be enhanced at any stage in one’s life, by training, continued practice and especially personalized coaching.
Goleman, D. (2005), Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Bantam Books.
Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, PhD, Director of MTC