Monday, January 09, 2006

Working With Emotional Intelligence: A Book Review

  • Success is founded, not just on cleverness, but very much on how we handle ourselves and others in relationships. Emotional intelligence can matter more than IQ scores. It shows itself in empathy, adaptability, and persuasiveness. Such skills are portable and give the ability to deal with a wide variety of situations.
    The real cost to a company from a valued employee leaving is the equivalent of one full year of pay, according to estimates cited by Daniel Goleman. The hidden costs derive not just from finding and training replacements, but in customer satisfaction and retention, and in lowered efficiency for everyone who works with the new hire. When organisations lose many employees, even at lower levels, the real costs can be substantial. And when the employee who leaves is a highly placed executive, the expense may be enormous. However, Goleman adduces evidence that, if you hire people on the basis of what he calls their ‘emotional competence’, employee turnover rates (whether of sales reps or top managers) are likely to fall dramatically.
    The rules for work are changing, says Goleman. As he points out, we’re being judged by a new yardstick: not just by how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other. This yardstick, he says, is increasingly applied in choosing who will be hired and who will not, who will be let go and who will be retained, who is passed over and who is promoted. What matters is a different way of being smart. The new rules predict who is most likely to become a star performer and who is most prone to derailing. And, no matter what field we work in currently, they measure the traits that are crucial to our marketability for future jobs.
    These rules have little to do with what we were told was important in school; academic abilities are largely irrelevant to this standard. The new measure takes for granted having enough intellectual ability and technical know-how to do our jobs; it focuses instead on personal qualities, such as initiative and empathy, adaptability and persuasiveness. It demonstrates which human abilities make up the greater part of the ingredients for excellence at work- most especially for leadership. In a time with no guarantees of job security, when the very concept of a ‘job’ is rapidly being replaced by ‘portable skills’, these are prime qualities that make and keep us employable. They add up to what Goleman calls ‘emotional intelligence'.
    In his first, best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman’s focus was primarily on education (though a short chapter did deal with the implications for work and organisational life). He says that what caught him by surprise was the flood of interest from the business community. This led Goleman, an academic psychologist, to extend his (impressively thorough) research to explore the importance of emotional intelligence for excellent job performance.
    Emotional intelligence is the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships. It describes abilities distinct from, but complementary to, academic intelligence as measured by IQ. Many people who are book smart but who lack emotional intelligence end up working for people who have lower IQs but who excel in emotional intelligence skills.
    Goleman says that emotional intelligence has a paramount place in work excellence. In part 1 of the book, he describes why he thinks it counts more than IQ or expertise for determining who excels at a job - any job - and why for outstanding leadership it counts for almost everything. The business case, declares Goleman, is compelling: ‘Companies that leverage this advantage add measurably to their bottom line’. His basic framework of emotional competence consists of the following elements:
    Self-awareness: knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.
    Self-regulation: managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources.
    Motivation: emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate reaching goals.
    Empathy: awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
    Social skills: adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others.
    In Part 2, Goleman describes in detail 12 job capabilities, based on self-mastery, initiative, trustworthiness, self-confidence, and achievement drive, and indicates the unique contribution each makes to ‘star’ performance. Emotionally intelligent people have an ‘inner rudder’ that helps them gauge whether what they are doing is worthwhile. Choices made in keeping with this inner sense are energising. They not only feel right, but maximize the attention and energy available for pursuing them. Among the illustrations here, Goleman tells the story of the young female ‘Microsoftie’ whose self-control in a meeting made her the only person among her highly nervous colleagues capable of calming an angry tirade by Bill Gates and helping her to put her point across to the Microsoft CEO.
    Part 3 of the book presents 13 key relationship skills such as empathy and political awareness, leveraging diversity, team capabilities, and leadership. These are the skills that let us, for instance, navigate the currents of an organisation effortlessly while others founder. Performance does not require us to excel in all these competences, but rather that we be strong in enough of them to reach the critical mass for success. One of Goleman’s insights here is that sales don’t necessarily go to the affable, outgoing salesperson. It is not enough to be a fast-talking extrovert. The reps who are the most empathetic - those who care about the buyers’ needs and concerns - may do better, especially if empathy is combined with a sense that they can be trusted.
    As with individuals, so with groups: emotional intelligence is the key to excellence. What sets excellent teams apart is their emotional competence. Goleman cites one study which suggests that the distinguishing competences of star teams include:
  • Empathy, or interpersonal understanding.
  • Co-operation and a unified effort.
  • Open communication, setting explicit norms and expectations, and confronting underperforming team members.
  • A drive to improve, so the team pays attention to performance feedback and seeks to learn to do better.
  • Self-awareness, in the form of evaluating their strengths and weaknesses as a team.
  • Organisational awareness, in terms of both assessing the needs of other key groups in the company and being resourceful in using what the organisation had to offer.
    Building bonds to other teams.
    Part 4 ‘heralds the good news’: Whatever the competences in which we have limitations, we can always learn to be better. Unlike IQ, which (contends Goleman) changes little after our teen years, emotional intelligence seems to be largely learned, and it continues to develop as we go through life and learn from our experiences. Our competence in it can keep growing. People become better and better in these capabilities as they grow more adept at handling their own emotions and impulses, at motivating themselves, and developing their empathy and social adroitness. This growth in emotional intelligence can, in fact, be summed up in the old-fashioned concept of ‘maturity’.
    To help readers who want to improve their own emotional intelligence capabilities and those of their team members, Goleman offers some practical guidelines. Among these are the following recommendations:
    Gauge readiness: people are at differing levels of readiness. If someone lacks readiness, training is likely to be wasted. If someone is not ready, make cultivating readiness the initial focus.
    Make change self-directed: have people choose their own goals for development and help them design their own plan for pursuing them.
    Prevent relapse: people can be discouraged by the slowness of change and the inertia of old habits; help them to use lapses and slip-ups as lessons to prepare themselves better next time.
    Encourage practice: lasting change requires sustained practice both on and off the job; i.e. a single seminar is only the beginning; use naturally arising opportunities for practice at home and at work.
    Provide models: high-status, highly effective people who embody the competence can be models who inspire change; encourage supervisors to value and exhibit the change; trainers who merely talk about these competences, but act in ways that make it clear they don’t possess them, undermine the message.
    Finally, Part 5 considers what it means for an organisation to be emotionally intelligent and describes one company that Goleman sees as an exemplar: Egon Zehnder International, the global executive search firm. This is a company that has knit its far-flung partners into a single global working team, fluidly sharing contacts and leads. The reason the firm operates smoothly is that it treats the global firm as a single team with everyone paid on the basis of overall performance. The partners share a pool of profits distributed according to a uniform formula. In a radical departure for its industry, at Egon Zehnder, a person’s share is calculated the same way whether their contribution to the firm’s earnings is big or small. The entire firm operates as a single profit centre. So, rather than executives seeking to hoard their information and contacts, the firm’s payment system encourages them to share their expertise and trust. The operating style of Egon Zehnder does require an extraordinary level of collaboration, open communication, a knack for leveraging diversity, and a talent for teamwork. Its approach to salary works only if everyone acts with both integrity and conscientiousness.
    Zehnder’s culture of sharing is precisely that sought by the much larger multinational firm Siemens, as described in the other book reviewed this month. An egalitarian compensation model is probably easier to implement in a relatively smaller (albeit global) firm like Egon Zehnder. If it can be achieved, however, a team approach pays off, says Goleman, not just in improved profitability, but also in productivity, increased sales and lowered costs - and also in areas like increased morale and motivation, not to mention lower employee turnover and loss of talent. Practices that draw on and promote emotional intelligence can help, not just with business performance, but also in making organisations satisfying and desirable to work for.
    Goleman acknowledges that many people have got to the top of organisations despite flaws in their emotional intelligence. That has long been a reality of organisational life, of course. But, he says, as work becomes more complex and collaborative, companies where people work together best have a competitive edge. In the new workplace, with its emphasis on flexibility, teams, and a strong customer orientation, this crucial set of emotional competences is becoming increasingly essential for excellence in every job and in every part of the world.
    There is a dangerous paradox at work, however: as children grow ever smarter in IQ, their emotional intelligence, according to Goleman, is on the decline. Children are becoming brighter because of better nutrition, more schooling, smaller family size, and (he claims) computer games and puzzles that help children master spatial skills. At the same time, however, the problems that alienation, drug abuse, crime and violence, depression and eating disorders, unwanted pregnancies, bullying and dropping out of school, portend for the workplace are very troubling. And the generation that is falling behind in emotional intelligence is the one entering the workforce today. Let’s hope that Goleman is being overly pessimistic.

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