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Equality Starts with Emotional Intelligence

For over 40 years, governments have come together under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) to discuss how to build and sustain a healthy and productive environment for all. In that time, they have made great strides; for example, the number of people living in extreme poverty (income below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day) and maternal and child mortality have declined, while primary school enrollment figures have increased since the 1990s. But the work is far from finished. In 2015, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to mobilize a global effort to end poverty by 2030. However, achieving these 17, from inclusive and quality education for all, to gender equality, to inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities, requires more than policy–it necessitates understanding how human beings make decisions and work together.

Logically, few people would dispute the values of equality, justice, and security for all. Yet many express strong emotion when it comes to how to achieve these values, what those values actually mean, and who they serve–particularly if any actions may impact our individual well-being. Achieving world peace and equality might be impossible, but that improbability hasn’t stopped many from trying.

On May 19, Daniel Goleman and Michele Nevarez, took the stage at the UN alongside a group of passionate individuals to speak on the role of emotions and Emotional Intelligence (EI) in achieving the UN’s 2030 SDGs. This momentous occasion marked the first time emotions were the focal point of discussion on the floor of the UN–a result of the efforts of an unsuspecting intern, Fernando Restoy Rodriguez, whose own experience working with youth in Cambodia prompted an interest in EI.

While EI is not a one-stop solution to global peace (if it were only that simple), it is a critical component of leadership, relationships, and getting things done. In fact, the second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld created a Quiet Room at the UN in the 1950s because he understood the vital importance of self-reflection, a key part of EI, in the heavy work of achieving global equality. However, this room stayed relatively unknown until meditation became part of the “cool” vernacular.

The reality is that we haven’t historically heard the word “emotions” used when it comes to geopolitics and treaties–other than it serving as a barrier. The training of diplomats and mediators typically involves learning how to unpack hidden agendas and unspoken needs for shared goals, but not the training of emotional regulation and awareness. If impasse and conflict, or worse, war, is presumably a result of emotions running high, the answer must be to remove them.

Yet we know from emerging science that emotions are inextricably connected to how we make decisions, how we communicate with others, and how we make sense of the world. Nobel Laureate scientist Herbert Simon notes that our emotions can skew our decisions and play a critical role in decision making. Our brain wants to keep us alive, and so we’re constantly trying to figure out whether what is happening around–and inside–us is going to hurt us. And when we try to make decisions that impact millions of people, it becomes even tougher to “remove” emotions. As a result, our intentions may not translate into the wisest decisions or desired goals. As Daniel Goleman notes in The Brain and Emotional Intelligence, “in order to make a good decision, we need to have feelings about our thoughts.” With Emotional Intelligence we learn to understand the feelings we have and their impact on decision making.

Individuals tasked with achieving world peace and equality come with the biases and agendas of their governments, their constituents, and their personal experiences. They are human, after all. The work is not easy, however, and we cannot begin to address world concerns if we are not aware of our own power and responsibility. A key component of EI in the efforts for global peace and equity is the work one must do internally first. As Nevarez noted, “at the heart of EI is personal agency, which leads to global agency.” It is like the oft-used metaphor of the butterfly. One flutter of a tiny butterfly can have massive reverberations.

But if there is no opportunity to pause amid the cacophony of discord and disagreement, we become more susceptible to making decisions that may unintentionally harm others. That is precisely why Hammarskjöld created the Quiet Room to bring back “the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back to a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination.” If we aren’t introspective enough to know what is happening inside, it is that much harder to do good for others. The EI competencies, such as self-awareness, equip individuals to approach global challenges with greater openness and curiosity, and to make more ethical decisions.

Moreover, to achieve our goals, we have to truly connect with others. To do that, we have to offer our full attention–even when we disagree. As Goleman emphasized, “One must be able to go deep inside to be able to give back to others … There has to be a purpose that resonates with the heart.” EI enables us to deepen our connections with others.

In other words, emotions will always play a role in achieving global peace and equality. When we acknowledge emotions and are mindful of their impact, we have the ability to make better decisions as well as a greater likelihood of success. Cultivating EI helps us manage the complexity of negotiation and conflict about what equality means on a global stage. As University of Toronto professor Stéphane Côte found in her research with Wharton professor Jeremy Yip, “People who are emotionally intelligent don’t remove all emotions from their decision-making. They remove emotions that have nothing to do with the decisions.”

EI is a renewable resource we need to cultivate and nurture. If we are to truly work toward universal peace and equality–no matter how improbable–we must approach ourselves and others with greater awareness and appreciation.

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Time to Think: The Importance of Introspection in Leadership

I have the privilege to work with leaders from diverse sectors including government, medicine, nonprofits, and the arts. Something that constantly comes up during coaching leaders is their near constant fire-fighting and focus on the day-to-day. Like the movie, Groundhog Day, it seems like the same things happen over and over again. The clients I coach want to break the cycle of crisis and reactivity, but seem unable to. Yet they know they are capable of leading differently.

When leaders lead by crisis management, often a root cause is a lack of introspection–an absence of personal and strategic think time. This includes time to think about the future, time to plan, and time to consider what is most important. One way executives can explore this phenomenon is by reviewing their calendar. When do they think? Do they have time, their most precious commodity, blocked on their calendar for introspection?

The classic definition of introspection is a reflective looking inward, an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings. A leader needs introspection time for looking inward–to consider who they are, what they value, what motivates them–to build their self-awareness. I work with leaders who know the value of this self-reflection; they show up focused and clear. I also work with leaders who lack this habit of personal introspection. These leaders tend to show up frustrated and unfocused.

Looking inward is critical for self-knowledge and building one’s self-awareness. And as we know through Daniel Goleman’s work on Emotional Intelligence, our most effective leaders are highly self-aware. Self-awareness is the gateway to self-management and relationship building–important competencies for effective leaders.

Introspection or examination of personal values, meaning, and purpose creates clarity. It enables leaders to focus on long-term success, not simply fire-fighting. There is power in envisioning and planning for a future. If you don’t take the time, either during your totally packed week or during your precious weekend time, you miss an important leadership duty–“the lifting of a person’s vision to higher sights, raising a person’s performance to a higher standard” (Peter Drucker).

Journaling is a simple practice leaders can adopt to strengthen introspection and self awareness. There is great power writing. Not only does it bring inner clarity, the act of writing increases our ability to achieve. The physical act of writing stimulates the base of the brain, a group of cells called the reticular activating system (RAS). In Write It Down, Make It Happen, author Henriette Anne Klauser says that, “Writing triggers the RAS, which in turn sends a signal to the cerebral cortex: ‘Wake up! Pay attention! Don’t miss this detail!’ Once you write down a goal, your brain will be working overtime to see you get it, and will alert you to the signs and signals that […] were there all along.” And we know writing down our goals helps in goal attainment. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, studies goal setting and found that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down.

Leaders need to schedule time to be introspective and increase their self-awareness. And the simple practice of writing down their insights, intentions, and goals helps them become a more intentional leader who gets the best out of themselves, their people, and their organizations.

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Stories that Change the Status Quo

The stories we tell, the words we choose, and the body language that accompanies those words have a tremendous impact on our ability to influence others. When people feel understood and can see themselves within the story you tell, you gain the power to change the status quo.

Influence is the essence of what a leader does. As such, you can utilize influence to gain buy-in for your ideas, to foster change in your organization, and to instill purpose in your work, even if you aren’t in a formal leadership position.

On a neurological level, tone of voice, body movements, gestures, facial expression, and posture all combine to create packages of energy received by the social brain. People with strengths in influence are sensitive to the exchange of this energy and use it to persuade through language.

Storytelling enables us to connect with the social brain. This active engagement fosters trust and resonance with others. After all, a compelling story is far more engaging than facts or information alone. We can use stories as vehicles for information that also speak to our shared emotions and goals.

Telling Your Story

Leaders–whether formal or informal–achieve their effectiveness through the stories they tell. Resonant narratives offer an alternative to the prevailing storyline (“this is just the way things are”) and help us gain buy-in from others to move an idea or project forward.

Marshall Ganz, community organizer and Harvard professor, has identified three layers to an effective public story: “the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now.” The story of self is your personal story. This includes why you have chosen to pursue change–whether you want to make your company more environmentally sustainable, improve the school system in which you teach, or establish patient limits in your hospital.

Why is this change important to you? And how has your story thus far led you to value this change? You might begin by thinking about your parents and your childhood. In what ways has your past led you to where you are today?

The story of us enables others to fit themselves into your vision. What values do you and members of your organization share? What story can you tell that articulates your shared identity? For example, as a nurse petitioning for safe patient limits, you might find the story of us in a common desire to help others, for which you and your coworkers have made sacrifices throughout your careers.

An effective story of us necessitates authentic leadership. With self-awareness and empathy, we can build genuine rapport with those we seek to lead. Without these competencies, the group you want to influence may find it difficult to relate to you or envision themselves within your narrative.

Lastly, the story of now articulates the action you and your group must take. Effective leaders identify actions, not simply problems. What specific action will you call upon your group to take? How does this serve your mission? Why should your group take this action now, instead of postponing it for the future?

You may find it beneficial to tell your story to a friend or record yourself. Start at the beginning (your parents, your childhood), move toward the present, and envision the future you’d like to shape.

Once you’ve gotten your thoughts out, try to distill your answers to three sentences, one for each layer (self, us, and now) of your story. The ultimate goal of this exercise isn’t to write a single narrative, but to have pieces you can adapt and iterate from again and again for different audiences and situations. When we build a narrative in this way, we develop the tools to initiate positive change in our communities and organizations.

This activity is inspired by Marshall Ganz’s worksheet, “Telling Your Public Story.” If you’re interested in developing a politically oriented story, you may find his work particularly beneficial.  

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How Mindfulness Helps Leaders Manage Conflict

In my study of the relationship between mindfulness and leader effectiveness, understanding the role of conflict was a career-altering realization for the forty-two leaders I interviewed. These leaders provided in-depth descriptions of Conflict Management, which is one of the twelve competencies in the Emotional Intelligence model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Strength in Conflict Management involves the ability to navigate emotionally charged situations in a diplomatic manner, which often requires open discussion and skillful de-escalation. Individuals with strength in this competency will also be:

  •      Comfortable discussing disagreements
  •      Effective communicators of the positions of all parties involved in a conflict
  •      Skilled in resolving disputes by discussing mutually beneficial goals
  •      Capable of openly talking about disagreements

Conflict Management relies on an individual’s ability to recognize their role in disagreements, either as a participant or a mediator. This necessitates Self-Awareness, since leaders must be aware of how people receive their behaviors if they hope to create an environment where others can safely express themselves. Development of this level of awareness requires active (real-time) self-observation and time spent reflecting on how conflicts could have had a better outcome for all involved.

Become Aware of Opportunities Lost to Conflict

Many of the leaders I interviewed credited mindfulness with helping them wake up to the relationship between conflict and poor-quality workplace interactions. Examples included understanding why coworkers were unwilling to help them, and why their teams lacked creativity and engagement. Exploration of their own role in these relationships led to a realization that their need to feel in control prompted conflict-inducing behaviors.

Leaders described gradually becoming able to see that they didn’t need to feel that they were leading every meeting or making every decision. For instance, the head of an interdisciplinary treatment program at a leading cancer center reported becoming aware of others’ unwillingness to cooperate with him. With the help of mindfulness he was able to recognize the risk to his own success created by focusing too heavily on his own personal agenda. As a result, he began investing more time in developing his ability to identify and address the needs of others, which led to not only a reduction in conflict, but also more supportive and collaborative relationships.

Participants specifically mentioned a reduction in emotional reactivity resulting from mindfulness, which they directly linked to less conflict in the workplace. The founder of a leading global consulting firm summarized these changes in the following statement: “It’s made me less reactive to my judgments and more thoughtful and compassionate, both with myself and other people. It’s made me more mindful not only of what I’m reacting to, but because I have that insight about myself, I’m also more able to notice when other people are being reactive.”

Leaders also credited mindfulness with an improved capacity for identifying and managing stress, which they considered a primary cause of workplace conflict. For instance, a senior leader with a major US hospital network described his increased strength in Conflict Management as: ”… the ability to be able to pause and not react in the heat of the moment. And instead, to be able to look underneath the feeling of anger, irritability … to see what is that really tapping into … that enables me to respond in way that’s more effective.” Many other participants also described an improved ability to minimize conflict once they became better at regulating stress. They specifically attributed these changes to positive outcomes such as successful departmental management during massive layoffs, preventing the loss of angry key clients, and maintaining production during highly volatile circumstances.

How to More Effectively Manage Conflict

Insights from this study into how leaders can strengthen their ability to manage conflict focused on two aspects of awareness: First, identify what triggers your conflict response by analyzing specific experiences. Second, develop the ability to identify what beliefs, fears, or potentially unmet needs may cause negative reactions in others.

You can further improve your ability to manage conflict by taking the following steps:

  1.     Learn to detect the early signs of conflict arising in yourself, both emotional and physical.
  2.     Refine your ability to regulate internal reactions that may lead to conflict.
  3.     Identify and work to understand the causal beliefs behind these reactions.
  4.     Invite others to express opinions that don’t align with yours and listen attentively.
  5.     Help those with opposing views find common ground and develop mutual respect.

Above all, the leaders I interviewed learned to view effectively managed conflict as an opportunity to surface potentially significant problems, strengthen relationships, and boost engagement. They were only able to realize this value once they invested in recognizing, and then giving up their need to feel important or in control. Finally, leaders reported that strengths in Conflict Management resulted in more respect from co-workers, which directly contributed to professional advancement.

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The Power of Vulnerability in Leadership

Sarah is a young, talented leader who rose quickly to an executive role. As a part of her professional development, she went through a 360 assessment and worked with a coach. In her feedback, she was surprised to discover that her colleagues and direct reports perceived her as distant and aloof. They struggled to connect with her, and consequently didn’t trust her. This feedback was shocking and upsetting for Sarah. She resisted it as “just not true.”

However, within her coaching relationship, Sarah uncovered a mindset which didn’t serve her well, and had, until now, been a blind spot. The mindset: being more authentic and vulnerable is bad. It developed long ago in response to a string of childhood tragedies, including her Dad’s death when she was in second grade and her Mom’s breast cancer diagnosis around the same time. Since Sarah’s mom was consumed by her husband’s death and facing her own mortality, she was not emotionally available to Sarah and her siblings. Being the oldest, Sarah became the surrogate parent to her siblings. And as she believed she needed to hold it together for the family, she never shared the depth of her grief and loss with anyone. This set her on a course to become the stoic, high achieving leader she is today. Sadly though, by walling off a part of herself, she struggled to build trusting relationships and was reluctant to let others into her world. Indeed, this mindset and its impact surfaced when she was forced to consider how her self-perception vastly differed from how others perceived her.  

While she believed being objective, unemotional, and aloof made her appear as a more competent leader, just the opposite was true. Her unwillingness to be real and connect with others held her back from becoming the relatable, engaging leader others would be inspired to work with and for. And unsurprisingly, the teams she led all struggled with interpersonal trust.

Sarah’s story illustrates a commonly held mindset not discussed enough in leadership circles (and in life)–that we should avoid being vulnerable. Like Sarah, many of us think we need to maintain the veneer of “having it all together.” If you share this mindset, consider these two points.

First, a willingness to open up about our humanity and imperfections with colleagues, direct reports, and even our bosses, humanizes us and attracts respect. And this learnable skill often correlates with exceptional teamwork and results. If jumping into this seems way too daunting, consider sharing with a trusted colleague first. Pushing through the initial anxiety of having the first few conversations pays off for most. By letting others in on both your imperfections and your discomfort with sharing them, you will experience a decompressing effect whereby you feel lighter and more confident.  

Second, by sharing your real self with someone, you can connect more easily with others. Brené Brown, noted researcher in social connection, has increased understanding of the role of vulnerability in relationship-building. Vulnerability doesn’t mean being weak. The best leaders have learned it indicates the courage to be your real self. It means replacing “professional aloofness and an air of having it all together” with the ability to experience ambiguity and model Emotional Self-Awareness. Opportunities for vulnerability present themselves to leaders all the time. For example, admitting you don’t know the answer to a question, asking for help, and offering stories of times you made mistakes. Openness builds trust and deepens relationships, which makes for great performance, both individually and organizationally. Research shows that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves.

After Sarah recognized her fear of vulnerability, and acted to challenge this mindset, her progress and motivation to become a better leader exploded. As she discovered first-hand, there’s power in expressing our struggles and accepting that we all have blind spots. Sarah’s new behavior was contagious. She observed her colleagues on the executive team starting to openly acknowledge others’ good ideas and perspectives in meetings rather than staying entrenched in their original positions. Sarah had, in fact, started her own movement!

Try this:

Teams need to connect and collaborate to become high-performing and successful. However, when your team includes a diverse mix of cultures and generations, achieving this level of cohesion can be challenging.

How can you bring people together? Try this exercise to help your team build deeper relationships.  

    1. At your next team meeting, ask everyone to find one partner and answer the following three questions in just 60 seconds each.
        • Where did you grow up?
        • How many kids are in your family and where do you fall in the order?
      • What current challenge are you facing?
    1. Have people share with the larger group what the experience was like for them–both as the listener and speaker.
  1. If you want to take it a step further, you can exemplify openness and vulnerability by sharing your responses to the questions with the entire team.  

The takeaway: Openness builds trust and deepens relationships, which makes for great performance, both individually and organizationally. Research shows that when people intentionally build social ties at work, their performance improves.

Recommended Resources:

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Adaptability, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

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Give Negative Feedback with Empathy

Seth, the regional manager of an insurance agency, had a reputation for enforcing the rigid guidelines sent down from upper management, while doing the bare minimum himself. When one of his newest employees, Jason, failed to record customer information in accordance with guidelines, Seth arranged a meeting to set him straight. After talking Jason’s ear off about the importance of playing by the book, Seth handed him a few examples of correct customer reports and told him to study up or find work somewhere else.

Jason, who had never received detailed training on the customer reports, became instantly and thoroughly discouraged. While he still made an effort to get by, he felt increasingly apathetic about his job. He was not alone: Other members of the team felt the same disengagement. They avoided Seth and kept their heads down, trying to do their work without having to deal with him. No surprise that Seth’s reputation for intractability also prevented people from sharing their ideas with him. Result: sales plummeted.

Last I heard, Seth had been replaced by a new regional manager, tasked with revitalizing a floundering business. It’s no surprise – Seth was not just difficult to work with, but an ineffective leader as well. Looked at through the emotional intelligence lens, what Seth lacked was empathic concern.

Empathic concern is one of three types of empathy. The first type, cognitive empathy, lets us understand others’ perspectives. The second, emotional empathy, allows us to experience others’ emotions in our own body, giving us an immediate sense of what they feel. And the third, empathic concern, moves us to action. We care about other people’s well-being and feel motivated to help them. This is where empathy extends into compassion.

Consider results from a study of how empathic concern matters when we give negative feedback. Researchers found that leaders who gave negative feedback with empathetic concern got better responses from their employees, who also rated them as more effective. And this caused higher-ups to view these leaders as more promotable.

People respond more positively to criticism and are more likely to take feedback to heart when they feel their leader cares about their well-being and wants them to improve. Empathic concern makes feedback more effective, kickstarting positive change in employees and rippling throughout organizations.

Instead of grilling a new hire like Jason over an understandable mistake, Seth could have empathized with Jason’s need to learn how to perform his new job, and maybe also nodded to the tediousness of the task. Most important, he could have expressed his desire for Jason to succeed and offered to give him further guidance if needed. But by resorting to scripted lectures and unwarranted threats, Seth prevented a new employee from becoming engaged and motivated to do his best.

A leader’s emotional intelligence (or lack thereof) can make or break an employee’s performance for an organization. The benefits (or toll) can be seen in indicators like employee engagement, creativity, and turnover. EI – being intelligent about emotions – includes ways to manage our own emotions and help shape emotions in others. This includes the ability to give feedback effectively, to inspire and motivate, and to consider employees’ feelings when making decisions.

So, a lack of empathy in a manager or executive creates dissonance. Leaders who don’t consider their employees’ perspectives when delivering feedback foster a tense environment in which trust and collaboration cannot flourish.

EI training can help leaders get better at the range of people skills they need, such as recognizing their employees’ emotional reactions and communicating their understanding and concern. By attuning ourselves to others’ emotions, performance feedback becomes an opportunity to create positive change and cultivate engagement. And when employees experience this positive resonance, leaders – and their organization – can gain a range of value-added benefits.

Recommended Reading:

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Coach and Mentor.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

For more in-depth reading on leadership and EI, What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters presents Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking, highly sought-after articles from the Harvard Business Review and other business journals in one volume. It features more than half a dozen articles, including “Reawakening Your Passion for Work.”

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Leadership Training: Filling the Gap with Emotional Intelligence

The reality of the average worker is not improving, and the way people feel about their workplace relationships is a key contributor to the problem. Leaders at all levels struggle with issues of interpersonal interaction and employee engagement, many of which are likely tied to inadequate leadership training and support. Changes in the workforce further complicate the demands of leadership, challenging the effectiveness of the most widely accepted leadership theories. Fortunately, there is growing evidence that indicates what employees and leaders need to thrive, which includes a better understanding of the role of emotion.

Not the Trickle-Down Effect We Wanted

In 2017, CLO Media reported that U.S. companies invest as much as $24 billion annually in programs to develop leadership effectiveness, yet, during the same year, the Engagement Institute identified stressed leaders as a primary cause of employee disengagement, and linked this issue to an estimated annual cost of over $450 billion. A study by Steelcase reports that 1/3 of workers in 17 of the world’s most important economies are disengaged, and Gallup reported in 2015 that 50% of 7,200 adults surveyed left a job “to get away from their manager.” In addition, a Karolinska Institute study showed a strong link between negative leadership behavior and heart disease in employees, which further supports the claim that abusive supervisors are one of the most costly problems faced by businesses. (Additional references appear at the end of this article.)

The Role of Emotion in Performance

While it is impossible to link these problems to any single cause, the behaviors modeled by leaders in the workplace are clearly a contributing factor. This is often the context within which we hear about the importance of Emotional Intelligence in professional settings, recently identified as a core leadership requirement in Crack the C-Suite Code by former Cisco Global Executive Talent VP, Dr. Cassandra Frangos. Leveraging the role of emotions in workplace performance does not require alignment with any particular theory or school of thought in order to be solution oriented. We only need to acknowledge that employee and leader performance is influenced by emotions, and make that the starting point for interventions.

A Better Understanding of What Employees Need

It probably isn’t a stretch to say that most leaders are not adequately equipped to support the new demands emerging from the workforce. For example, introverts make up 30–50 percent of the workforce, but many organizations maintain workplace environments that introverts find counterproductive. Additionally, in the U.S. 31 percent of full-time employees report being unable to complete key tasks in their primary work locations, and 41 percent report lacking access to privacy needed for confidential workplace conversations. It is also estimated that as many as 20 percent of adults will develop PTSD at some point in their lives, and 18 percent suffer from anxiety disorders. This data raises the question of whether current and future generations of leaders are adequately prepared to provide for the emotional needs of employees.

We also continue to hear about “issues” with the millennial workforce, the significance of which is well-articulated in a story about cultural changes at PwC that describes the unwillingness of younger, key employees to give up quality of life in exchange for continued employment. This forced the organization to change on a fundamental level, and illustrates the point that leaders must be prepared to adapt to the needs of workers now more than ever.

A Call for Emotional Intelligence

Fortunately, studies identifying the negative effects of inadequate leadership often also shed light on possible solutions. For example, the previously mentioned Karolinska study showed that employees with inspirational managers reported less short-term sick leave. In addition, workers whose managers hold regular meetings are three times more likely to be engaged. Employees have also reported a desire for daily contact with their boss, and for their superiors to take an interest in their personal lives. Finally, a Gallup report states that “clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs and is vital to performance,” which further adds to the argument for leader EI training aimed at increased engagement, since some research reports that engaged employees outperform disengaged employees by 202%.

Coaching as an Effective and Vital Strategy

There has been no shortage of training materials generated over the years with the aim of developing Emotional Intelligence in leaders. Given the data highlighted above, these efforts have not been adequate. The solution lies in approaching the problem with greater accountability, structured learning, and evidence-based strategies for lasting, behavioral change.

Optimal learning and retention has been linked to Direct Instruction, which should include contextualized and hands-on learning of new skills, concepts, and processes. Mentor and/or coach support is also required to facilitate the transfer of new knowledge into more effective capabilities. This process includes attention to the difference between what a learner can do independently and what can be accomplished with the support of more experienced advisors. Dixon, Carnine, and Kameenui (1993) indicate that this type of development requires metaphorical “scaffolds,” created and maintained by more knowledgeable others, which are “gradually dismantled” in order to enable independent function.

These theories stress the importance of a third party to guide development, which is also a foundation of a scientifically supported psychological modality, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The CBT approach focuses on identifying thoughts, beliefs, and reactions that contribute to ineffective behavior, and learning how to manage this process. The adaptation of CBT for the specific purpose of addressing the requirements of leadership coaching has already been proposed, and the combination of this approach with more effective learning strategies is exactly what the next generation of workplace Emotional Intelligence development should be based on.

This means that coaches and mentors should be an integral part of EI training. It also means that programs will need to reach employees at all levels of organizations to begin creating internal networks of EI coaches and communities of EI practitioners. If there is one thing we can probably all agree on about EI, it is that the way people treat one another has a direct impact on workplace performance. From that perspective, workplace EI development should focus on creating environments where employees and leaders are fluent in a common language and theoretical framework for better understanding one another’s needs.

Recommended Resources:

For more in-depth reading on leadership and EI, What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters presents Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking, highly sought-after articles from the Harvard Business Review and other business journals in one volume. It features more than half a dozen articles, including “Reawakening Your Passion for Work.”

References:

1. “U.S. companies invest as much as $24 billion annually in programs to develop leadership effectiveness”

2. “the Engagement Institute identified stressed leaders as a primary cause of employee disengagement, and linked this issue to an estimated annual cost of over $450 billion”

3. “1/3 of workers in 17 of the world’s most important economies are disengaged”

4.”50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job ‘to get away from their manager'”

5. “abusive supervisors are one of the most costly problems faced by businesses”

6. “as many as 20 percent of adults will develop PTSD at some point in their lives”

7. “18 percent suffer from anxiety disorders”

8. “Employees have also reported a desire for daily contact with their boss”

9.”scientifically supported psychological modality, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)”

10. “The adaptation of CBT for the specific purpose of addressing the requirements of leadership coaching has already been proposed”