EQ - defining a new blueprint for leadership?

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According to quarter-on-quarter figures for growth from the Office of National Statistics, we are finally pulling out of the recession. As we emerge into a new economic phase, we face a dramatically different business climate from the one that triggered the downturn. Most businesses have changed considerably since the crash of 2008: profits, budgets, people, processes and assets have all been affected, often leaving a business feeling and looking different (hopefully better) than before. 

It is with this backdrop that we should consider the next phase: what should be the guiding principles in this new stage of growth? Cast your mind back to the pre-recession days. Across almost all sectors, a gung-ho style of leadership prevailed. It is what I call ‘Generation Grr’, the go-getting, confident, seemingly irrepressible and impregnable leaders. When business was booming, the characteristics of Generation Grr leadership appeared to result in business success and were thus rewarded handsomely. On the flip side, I saw a repressive, almost bullying culture emerge in some organisations. There was a sense that if you weren’t on the side of the leadership team, you were in their way. Difference of opinion was stifled in favour of a homogenised, uber-confident leadership style. 

With all the high-profile dismissals following the banking crisis, we saw that even the biggest institutions and leaders could, and did, fail. 

By contrast, the management culture I have come across most often since the recession began to bite could be summarised as ‘Generation Zzz’. They are a much meeker bunch. Jamie Oliver described the current generation as ‘too wet for work’. The comment applies just as well to the middle and senior managers of today as it does for the kitchen workers in his restaurants. At their best, Generation Zzz leaders are better able to take in differences of opinion within the business. However, many Generation Zzz leaders seem incapable or afraid of questioning the status quo. In fact, many do not seem particularly effective at leading and even fewer actually inspire those around them. Although it is easy to feel sympathy for those who feel grateful to still have a job, from a business perspective a fearful attitude can stifle growth and ideas. 

We need to find a middle ground between the fearless Generation Grr and the cowed Generation Zzz. Businesses are increasingly taking stock of their past successes and mistakes and trying to navigate an alternative blueprint for the way they train managers. CIPD research reveals that 36% of line managers have not received any training for their leadership role. Nearly half of all organisations promote staff to managerial roles based on past performance rather than people management or leadership skills. What’s more, once managers are in place, nearly one third cite ‘other priorities’ as standing in the way of ensuring the interests of team members are supported. 

When businesses are asked to describe what they believe to be effective management, what emerges is of course a desire to blend the best of Generation Grr and Generation Zzz. Both styles have their advantages, but they both share a major flaw: a lack of emotion intelligence. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is sometimes used as a measure of emotional responsiveness: the ability to perceive, control and evaluate your own emotions and the emotions of those around you. EQ affects the way people think and the decisions they make – and it’s increasingly considered central to effective management and leadership.

EQ can be broken into four branches:

  1. Self-awareness: recognising and understanding our own emotions
  2. Social awareness: recognising and understanding the emotions of others
  3. Self-management: effectively managing our own emotions
  4. Relationship management: applying emotional understanding in our dealings with others

Combining these four strands within individuals and fostering these traits more widely across an organisation yields results surprisingly quickly. Managers and other employees cite higher levels of respect, higher morale and better trust between themselves, both between different levels and within peer groups. Communication and decision-making becomes more effective. One notable example is Jen, who was bypassed a number of times for promotion due to lack of awareness of her overly-aggressive style. Over a period of six months she received 360 feedback via the Hay McBer ESCI tool which measures levels of Emotional Intelligence and I met with her on a monthly basis for coaching sessions where the focus was managing her impact, her relationships and her communication. As a result, she was promoted and over the next ten years she regularly requested 360 degree feedback and coaching.

Higher EQ levels in a business lead to more authentic engagement with people and ideas. When organisations see the results, developing EQ seems like a no-brainer. The good news is that, unlike IQ, which is considered innate or at least static in adulthood, EQ can be developed. Because no matter how stratospheric an employee’s IQ might be, the key to his or her effectiveness within the organisation is down to how they manage themselves and others around them. 


 

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