The vital role of emotional intelligence

Written by
Chris Underwood

23 Dec 2015

23 Dec 2015 • by Chris Underwood

Putting the pieces together

Building a high performing leadership team is complex – it’s a science, an art and a jigsaw puzzle. One where, when you get it right, the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts. 

The ‘parts’ are the necessary mix of technical and professional capabilities and IQ but what makes them into a successful ‘whole’ is EQ (emotional intelligence) – which enables senior leaders to celebrate team balance and diversity, motivate, inspire and influence people as well as make critical decisions and influence strategy.

When leadership goes wrong, business performance suffers, employees feel a lack of purpose and staff turnover increases. Organisations which don’t take EQ into account tend to have people who all think, look and speak in the same way, usually because individuals have been hired purely on the basis of their technical skills. 

Technical competence is not enough; whether you’re looking for an accountant, project manager or marketer. Skills should be a given at interview stage, but they don’t indicate whether an individual can be impactful and effective in their role.

Using EQ in the hiring process requires careful judgement and doing so will enable you to build a balanced, diverse team with individuals from different backgrounds, culture and industries – who think differently and challenge the status quo, bringing a fresh perspective to problem solving. 

People with EQ aren’t afraid to ask ‘stupid questions’ such as “why do you do it like that?” (Answer: because that’s the way we’ve always done it.), and they can bring an element of balance to your team. Put simply, if your team are all ‘doers’, who will think of and bring in fresh ideas? And if everyone is a ‘thinker’, who will actually making things happen? 

So what does EQ mean?

EQ is about self-awareness, understanding your strengths, weaknesses, drivers, values and goals, while empathy enables you to understand the impact your qualities have on others. In an effective team, each member has this self-awareness and empathy, and also appreciates how their colleagues work, how to influence and guide them and how to avoid or manage conflict.

Leadership teams made up of individuals with a highly developed sense of EQ communicate honestly and openly, collaborate effectively, understand their individual and collective accountability, and most importantly, are able to cascade these behaviours, visions and values into their teams.

Be brave when recruiting senior leaders

Working out what your team needs and making the right appointment is not as daunting as you may think. Rather than refreshing an overly-detailed job specification which probably hasn’t been looked at since the last time you were filling a particular post, spend your time more effectively by thinking about what problems you want the new recruit to solve within your business. 

Given that technical excellence is the basic requirement, ask yourself what else you want your new starter to bring to the team. What do you want them to do, and what are is the success criteria? Keep the doers and thinkers in mind, and be clear about the personal characteristics you don’t need or want.

Recruiting from a competitor is not always the best way

The right person for you may not be working in your industry currently – that’s not an issue; their technical skills will transfer over and you may very well find that fresh eyes from a different business sector are able to see your problems more clearly than those who work in it everyday.

Every industry has its own specialisms and technical know how, but almost all technical skills are transferrable. EQ is about looking for evidence of strong leadership – where difficult decisions have been made, where your candidate has had to encourage a team to steer a different course or establish new standards. Ask for examples of a creation, strategy or sense of purpose, and probe to get an idea of how your candidate has used his or her EQ to make these changes a positive experience for their team, regardless of the difficulty of the circumstance. 

Discover how much self awareness your candidate has. What do they consider their management style to be, what do they do well and what do they enjoy doing most? What do they think are their weak areas and how do they try and mitigate them, and how do they resolve conflict? Is your candidate aware of the shadow they cast?

No one can be the best at everything. EQ enables leaders to play to the strengths of and mitigate weaknesses in their teams by encouraging individuals to perform at their best. Putting EQ at the heart of a leadership assessment will ensure this happens.