“Once you have that strategic vision, you have to do what? You have to communicate, you have to persuade, you have to listen, so again it comes back to using emotional intelligence.” — Dr Daniel Goleman, at AIM WA’s Signature Leadership Seminar in Perth, May 2017.
The inner-city school where my son began his education fifteen years ago had an almost tangible sense of happiness among teachers, staff and parents. I specifically chose the word happiness over positivity or inclusiveness or success because happiness appeared to be the culmination of those elements. Problems were handled with a solutions-based approach rather than conducted as a fault-finding mission, and relationships between parents, teachers and school management seemed connected and constructive. It didn’t take long to find the source of this wellspring of good feeling: Mr D.
Mr D was the school principal. He somehow managed to remember the names of every student, their parent’s names, sometimes even the names of their pets, most of the time. He remembered the name of my then three year old and made sure he complimented her hat-wearing habit each time he saw her. He looked at things from outside the box, he encouraged and supported people to work out the answers to problems, he made the hard calls when he had to, dealing with difficult students and adults firmly but with understanding. This created a community of people who felt valued, and that inspired a higher level of personal contribution and a true team attitude within that community.
Mr D’s transfer and the appointment of a new principal resulted in mass transfers of both teachers and families from the school before the end of term 3. Why?
The new principal dismantled much of her predecessor’s legacy almost immediately, but more significantly, she lacked his skill and personal approach in dealing with people. The school community was fragmented through lack of communication (and a poor communication style), lack of trust, lack of understanding and a distinct lack of any glimmer of a personal connection. Her management style was autocratic and devoid of empathy. According to some outgoing teachers, those were her good points.
The corporate world operates on the same premise: organisational success and workplace culture go hand in hand, and it’s those in the top positions whose influence dictates a positive or negative culture.
According to organisational training company Corporate-eq.com, corporate emotional intelligence is “a collective ability of employees at any level to choose the most efficient way to reach goals using emotions according to company values. There are two mental systems: structural and intuitional. Usually one of these systems dominates the other. The methodology of growing Corporate EQ is based on engaging (the) emotional system in the process of decision making.”
When EQ is missing from an organisation, and particularly from the upper tiers of management, corporate culture and cohesion suffer. In traditional management styles, authority has been seen as key to managing staff, but there’s a shift towards developing EQ to make gains in organisational cohesion.
So, what’s really meant by the term corporate EQ? Dr Dan Goleman popularised the EQ concept in the late 1990s when he suggested it was the ability to recognise, understand and manage our own emotions, and to recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others. It’s not just about empathy and awareness, though. The ability to drive change or deliver difficult feedback also falls under the broader EQ umbrella. Great leaders have a balance of capabilities to prepare them for challenges and to support their strategies.
It sounds simple enough. But consider that every day CEOs, managers and corporations make decisions based on economics, on meeting targets or KPIs, or crisis management. When EQ is missing from this decision-making, the impact on people and culture is almost certain to be negative.
Let’s look at change management. A business makes a change to a project process that directly impacts about twenty percent of staff, and indirectly affects another forty percent. The change, involving contractor use on projects under a specified value, is implemented without consultation or communication with those internal stakeholders. As the change becomes apparent, individual employees seek information firstly from each other, and then from supervisors and managers, only to find they are all in the same position. No information has been filtered down except to those effecting the change.
Even with advance communication, change can create stress and negativity. People react in different ways but change without consideration of those it affects — let alone communication around what and how it will happen — will turn uncertainty and negativity into resentment, confusion, anger and a withdrawal of trust in a matter of hours. Regaining that ground takes considerably longer to achieve.
Emotionally intelligent leaders use their awareness to recognise that employees will respond more positively to change when feeling included and valued. They articulate a vision that resonates emotionally with both themselves and those they lead, encouraging the motivation needed to move in a new direction. 1
I can’t say for sure, but those traits and skills could have been exactly what bound the school community together under the leadership of Mr D, so happily for so long.