Emotional Intelligence | Stevehein.com

HBR article on EI and Leadership

Here are some quotes from a recent article supposedly on emotional intelligence and leadership from the Harvard Business Review. Then my comments and criticism follow.

The direct quotes from the article:

Empathy, intuition, and self-awareness are essential to good leadership, but they can be tricky to hone and dangerous to use. Eighteen leaders explore how to manage emotional intelligence.

Leading by Feel

Like it or not, leaders need to manage the mood of their organizations. The most gifted leaders accomplish that by using a mysterious blend of psychological abilities known as emotional intelligence. They're self-aware and empathetic. They can read and regulate their own emotions while intuitively grasping how others feel.and gauging their organization's emotional state.

But where does emotional intelligence come from? And how do leaders learn to use it? The management literature (and even common sense) suggests that both nature and nurture feed emotional intelligence. Part genetic predisposition, part life experience, and part old-fashioned training, emotional intelligence emerges in varying degrees from one leader to the next, and managers apply it with varying skill. Wisely and compassionately deployed, emotional intelligence spurs leaders, their people, and their organization to superior performance; naively or maliciously applied, it can paralyze leaders or allow them to manipulate their followers for personal gain.

We invited 18 leaders and scholars (including business executives, leadership researchers, psychologists, a neurologist, a cult expert, and a symphony conductor) to explore the nature and management of emotional intelligence - its sources, uses, and abuses. Their responses differed dramatically, but there were some common themes: the importance of consciously - and conscientiously - honing one's skills, the double-edge nature of self-awareness, and the danger of letting any one emotional intelligence dominate.

John D. Mayer

John D. Mayer is a professor of`psychology at the University of New Hampshire. He and Yale psychology professor Peter Salovey are credited with first defining the concept of emotional intelligence in the early 1990īs.


Be Realistic

This is a time of growing realism about emotional intelligence -- especially concerning what it is and what it isnīt. The books and articles that have helped popularize the concept have defined it as a loose collection of personality traits such as self-awareness, optimism and tolerance. These popular definitions have been accompanied by exaggerated claims about the importance of emotional intelligence. But diverse personality traits, however admirable, donīt necessarily add up to a single definition of emotional intelligence. In fact, such traits are difficult to collectively evaluate in a way that reveals their relationship to success in business and in life.

Even when theyīre viewed in isolation, the characteristics commonly associated with emotional intelligence and success may be more complicated than they seem. For example, the scientific jury is out on how important self-awareness is to successful leadership. In fact, too much self-awareness can reduce self-esteem, which is often a crucial component of great leadership.

From a scientific (rather than a popular) standpoint, emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others' emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others' emotions. It doesn't necessarily include the qualities (like optimism, initiative, and self-confidence) that some popular definitions ascribe to it.

Researchers have used performance tests to measure people's accuracy at identifying and understanding emotions - for example, asking them to identify the emotions conveyed by a face or which among several situations is most likely to bring about happiness. People who get high scores on these tests are indeed different from others. In the business world, they appear better able to deal with customers' complaints or to mediate disputes, and they may excel at making strong and positive personal connections with subordinates and customers over the long term. Of course, emotional intelligence isn't the only way to attain success as a leader: A brilliant strategist who can maximize profits may be able to hire and keep talented employees even if he or she doesn't have strong personal connections with them.

Is there value in scales that, based on popular conceptions, measure qualities like optimism and self-confidence but label them as emotional intelligence? Certainly these traits are important in business, so measuring and (sometimes) enhancing them can be useful. But recent research makes it clear that these characteristics are distinct from emotional intelligence as it is scientifically defined. A person high in emotional intelligence may be realistic rather than optimistic and insecure rather than confident. Conversely, a person may be highly self-confident and optimistic, but lack emotional intelligence. The danger lies in assuming that because a person is optimistic or confident, he or she is also emotionally intelligent, when, in fact, the presence of those traits will tell you nothing of the sort.

Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman is the cochair of the Consoritum for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations based at Rutgers University's Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology in Piscataway, New Jersey.


Never Stop Learning

You can be a successful leader without much emotional intelligence if you're extremely lucky and you've got everything else going for you: booming markets, bumbling competitors, and clueless higher-ups. If you're incredibly smart, you can cover for an absence of emotional intelligence until things get tough for the business. But at that point, you won't have built up the social capital needed to pull the best out of people under tremendous pressure. The art of sustained leadership is getting others to produce superior work, and high IQ alone is insufficient to that task.

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned and improved at any age. In fact, on average, people's emotional intelligence tends to increase as they age. But the specific leadership competencies that are based on emotional intelligence don't necessarily come through life experience. For example, one of the most common complaints I hear about leaders, particularly newly promoted ones, is that they lack empathy. The problem is that they were promoted because they were outstanding individual performers, and being a solo achiever doesn't teach you the skills necessary to understand other people's concerns.

Leaders who are motivated to improve their emotional intelligence can do so if they're given the right information, guidance, and support. The information they need is a candid assessment of their strengths and limitations from people who know them well and whose opinions they trust. The guidance they need is a specific developmental plan that uses naturally occurring workplace encounters as the laboratory for learning. The support they need is someone to talk to as they practice how to handle different situations, what to do when they've blown it, and how to learn from those setbacks. If leaders cultivate these resources and practice continually, they can develop specific emotional intelligence skills - skills that will last for years.


I will write more about this later, but mostly I want to say that...

- I can hardly believe this was in the Harvard Business Review. It sounds more like something out of Popular Psychology or Time Magazine

- Dan Goleman doesn't seemed to have learned anything from all the research and writing Jack Mayer and his colleagues have done since 1995. Goleman is still saying "The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned and improved at any age."

- Goleman's piece sounds more like an advertisement for his consulting services. He is basically saying to businesses, "You need to hire me and my friends to come in and give your managers a test, then have us train your managers and pay us megabucks for all of this."

- And as is so typical of Goleman, he uses fear to try to manipulate the reader. For example he says, "If you're incredibly smart, you can cover for an absence of emotional intelligence until things get tough for the business. But at that point, you won't have built up the social capital needed to pull the best out of people under tremendous pressure."

- And, as is also typical of Goleman, he exagerates, saying things like, "if your extremely lucky", and "incredibly smart" and "tremendous pressure"

- He also shows his arrogant, judgmental side when he says "bumbling competitors" and "clueless higher-ups"

S. Hein
January, 2005