Emotional Intelligence

by Andy Smith

Developing EI in organisations

The emotional ‘climate’ in an organisation affects results in at least two ways.

  • People who feel upbeat, positive and confident will generally be more creative and flexible in their thinking, more motivated to achieve their goals, and even more capable of understanding information.
  • ‘Negative’ emotions such as anger and anxiety, which some management cultures engender, disrupt both mental abilities and the ability to read emotions in others.

Research is now beginning to reveal the difference that the ‘feel’ of a organisation makes to its results.

Just as at the team level, building the emotionally intelligent organisation has to start with recognising the reality of the emotional climate and the culture that maintains it. And just as in the team, the biggest influence on the climate of the organisation is the emotional intelligence of the leadership.

The dangers of a ‘strong’ organisational culture

As social animals, we are heavily influenced by the family we are born into. The family forms a model for the social groups that we later join. Members of a group may hold dominant (parental) or subordinate (childlike) roles. People who are independent adults outside a group may become dependent and childlike within it.

We tend to look to others for cues as to how to behave in a given situation, particularly an unfamiliar one. The desire for group approval and fear of group disapproval can be strong motivators. The payoff for the individual is the feeling of security that group membership brings.

Psychiatrist Arthur Deikman draws some interesting parallels between organisations with ‘strong’ cultures and religious cults.

  • In cults, just accepting the group’s views is not enough. Cult members are expected to reject any individual who voices criticism or disagrees with the leader.
  • The group attributes unflattering motives to outsiders (but never to group insiders).
  • The group fails to consider the possible validity of other views.
  • The group never takes a critical look at its own position.
  • Cults attack membership of other ‘competing’ institutions, and do their best to drive a wedge between members and their families.

Corporations with ‘strong’ cultures act in a very similar way. If dissent or innovative thinking is discouraged because ‘that’s not the way we do things around here’, the ‘official’ version of reality can become increasingly divorced from the experience of its customers, shareholders and employees. This is especially true when leaders suffer from ‘CEO disease’.

The fewer connections cult members have with the outside world, the more they are dependent on the group for self-esteem and purpose. Corporations and professional firms often require their members to work long hours, put the company before their family life, and submit to relocations every couple of years. These frequent transfers reduce the individual’s involvement in the wider community, and make them more dependent on the company for validation and companionship.

Overwork and exhaustion is used by cults to sap the individual’s will to rebel. Similarly, the effect of a long-hours culture in a corporation is to make the employee more compliant – and also more reliant on and closer to their colleagues.

Cults also tend to have strong, charismatic leaders who appeal to the idealism and readiness for self-sacrifice that many people have. A ‘strong’ (parental) leader makes it easier for people to surrender responsibility and take a subordinate, childlike role, rather than thinking for themselves. The archetypal cult leader bears similarities to the ‘charismatic CEO’. This recent myth attributes all the success of a company to its leader (Jack Welch at General Electric, Lee Iacocca at Chrysler) and leaves the contributions of employees, as well as the part played by business conditions, out of the picture.

Checklist for an emotionally intelligent organisation

As with many other concepts which have become management buzzwords in recent years, many organisations pay lip service to emotional intelligence (EI). An organisation that is genuinely committed to improving and maintaining EI in practice will be able to provide meaningful answers to the following questions.

Self-awareness

  • Does the organisation know what it wants? Does it have clear values and a mission to work towards?
  • How does the organisation ensure that these values and mission are translated into everyday behaviour?
  • Does the organisation have a sense of humour about itself?
  • Does the organisation solicit honest feedback – from customers, suppliers and other outside stakeholders?
  • Do the employees feel they can talk honestly to their managers? (If they do, the evidence will be that critical feedback is sometimes given.)
  • What mechanisms are in place to ensure that the organisation learns from its mistakes?
  • Do the leaders of the organisation have contacts with employees at all levels?
  • How quickly can best practice and worthwhile innovations spread from one part of the organisation to another?

Empathy

  • How good is the organisation at putting itself into the shoes of customers, employees and other stakeholders in order to understand their wants and needs?
  • What is it doing to maintain and improve its ability to see itself as others see it?
  • What evidence is there that the organisation is open to learning from other points of view, outside the organisational culture?
  • How does the organisation work with and benefit from diversity among its people?

Self-management

  • Does bullying occur – and how is it dealt with?
  • What mechanisms are in place for resolving conflict within the organisation – and do they work?
  • What is the overall emotional tone set by the leaders of the organisation – is it positive (‘resonant’) or negative (‘dissonant’)?
  • How is emotionally intelligent behaviour measured?
  • How is emotionally intelligent behaviour reinforced, encouraged and rewarded?
  • What is the length of the typical working day and week? (Anything over a five-day week or an eight-hour day will tend to have adverse effects on health, stress levels and performance.)
  • How is work-life balance encouraged?
  • How connected to their local communities are the organisation’s employees, particularly at the executive level?

Motivation

  • Do employees have a sense of purpose?
  • Does everyone working in the organisation know how their job fits into the bigger picture?
  • Does the organisation know for sure what motivates its staff at different levels? How?
  • Is the rate of employee turnover significantly below the average for comparable organisations?
  • Do employees contribute ‘discretionary effort’ (above and beyond their job requirements)? How is this measured?

Relationship management

  • Do employees feel respected and listened to?
  • To what extent do employees recommend the organisation as a good place to work?
  • Do customers/suppliers/other stakeholders feel respected and listened to?
  • To what extent do employees act as advocates for the products, services or work of the organisation when they outside working hours?
  • Does the organisation communicate with its people in appropriate language and by appropriate means?
  • Is the organisation able to work with other bodies for mutual gain?
  • Does the organisation embody a win/win ethos in its dealings with others?