If you had to Google it, you’re not alone. It refers to Emotional Quotient or Emotional Intelligence. An IQ of empathy. The concept of EQ isn’t new, but it’s been difficult to get people to understand its crucial significance in the office. However, as the workforce churns over into a new generation, the way we do business—especially at the executive level—is changing. In addition, the last few years of pandemic have afforded even greater opportunity for executives and business leaders to learn and demonstrate the qualities of EQ among their employees.
The Overlooked Qualification
One study of Fortune 500 CEOs found that only 25 percent of long-term job success relies on technical knowledge; the remaining 75 percent depends on people skills. A recent Norwich University study compared exceptional managers with average ones, and found that 90 percent of the disparities in performance were attributable to emotional intelligence. If EQ has such pronounced, practical effects on performance and even profitability, why isn’t it more widespread in the business world?
So What Is It and How Can We Get More of It?
The stereotype of the unfeeling, demanding, perfectionist executive exists for a reason; not only was it once common, but it was also roundly considered the best way to run a company—especially a large one. Leaders were discouraged from showing vulnerability, under the misguided belief that if they appeared weak, the company also appeared weak. But more recently—and particularly in the wake of the global health crisis—we’ve started celebrating emotionality in the workplace. Even more concretely, research has demonstrated that the ability to connect to one’s emotions, and the emotions of other people, may be the most salient predictor of success for leaders and organizations. Leaders with high emotional intelligence (EQ) are simply more competent at piloting organizations through challenging waters.
Although the idea first emerged several decades ago, it wasn’t until the late 90s that Daniel Goleman articulated the five components of EQ: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. If you’re not ready for an entire book, there are many articles that illustrate how these components play a role in enhancing relationships, productivity, and results within an organization. You might notice that most of these components aren’t about managing others, but managing yourself. This is why EQ is so helpful in areas where you can’t expect to force everyone to bend to your will—such as schools and public service. In fact, there is broad acknowledgment that EQ is crucial for organizational success.
If you take nothing else from this entire article, remember this: unlike IQ, EQ is something that individuals can learn and evolve with intentional effort and education. In fact, EQ isn’t intuitive for many people—maybe especially the personality type most like to scrabble to the tip-top of a big company. It can be difficult to be aware of your own emotions and conscious enough of others’ emotions to use that knowledge productively. EQ takes effort.
Who Are the EQ Experts?
As an HR leader, I feel personally responsible for making sure that my team is intrinsically invested and engaged with EQ-based practices; I am also committed to ensuring that leaders throughout the company work to develop their Emotional Intelligence. HR deals with so many organizational pain points, and so many of the high-stress aspects of the working and business world, that recognizing the practical importance of EQ is critical to being effective as an HR professional. It’s especially crucial when the workforce is in turmoil. As the department dealing most personally with our employees, I need my HR team members to be experts in EQ.
Many executives and leaders fail to capitalize on opportunities to cultivate a loyal workforce by simply not understanding employee emotions, drives, and needs. Take the simple business concept of praise and reward. It’s so important to provide positive feedback to employees who are doing well. Not only does it incentivize their good work, it also shows them that their efforts are recognized; they feel seen.
But while one employee may blossom under the light of targeted attention, another might wilt. Knowing when to make a company-wide announcement and when to send a quiet, personal note of thanks can make the difference between a happy employee and one looking for another position. There’s value in knowing oneself and inviting collaboration with others who are different. Others who are strong where you are weak. Striking a balance between your weaknesses and others’ strengths creates a complementary team. Push away that outdated nonsense that it’s taboo to admit you have weaknesses, and remember that EQ yields better results for leaders.
EQ in the Post-Pandemic New Normal
I’m not sure any business disruption in my career has offered those in leadership roles such a prime opportunity to show empathy to employees as the COVID pandemic. Suddenly, employees everywhere were faced with job conditions they did not expect when signing their offer letters. While many reveled in the opportunity to work from home, others suffered from a lack of social interaction. Everyone had to adjust, and what every single member of the workforce needed was someone who tried to understand them individually. It was a challenge for all of us.
I found my own EQ tested when it came time to bring more employees back into the office, after most of us had functioned remotely for nearly two years. For example, one employee, in the middle of an IVF cycle, had been advised by her physician not to get vaccinated. In addition, she was young and healthy. And very stressed. When I took the time to put myself in her shoes, I understood her frustration. I had to ask myself, who am I to tell her to go against medical advice? Of course, that left others wondering why they weren’t returning to a 100% vaccinated environment. I know I’m not the only HR person who had to work hard to understand everyone’s valid emotions. That’s exactly where EQ plays an enormous role.
I found myself juggling a multitude of perspectives in our efforts to devise policies and procedures that would achieve two underlying goals: keep our workforce healthy and safe, while maintaining productivity. My own views were vying with leadership perspectives, employee opinions, the political landscape, and the broader social context. Articulating what was needed to ensure a healthy, safe, productive workplace required me to filter through these diverse perspectives without privileging any one over the others. To that end, I listened to a lot of people, and subsequently brought everyone’s stories to leadership; this allowed us to craft an emotionally intelligent decision that was right for our business and our employees.
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The Ultimate Continuing Education
EQ isn’t like math, where you can learn 5×7 and know that it equals 35 for the rest of your life. It requires constant honing, and even advocates of EQ, experts in its use, have to remind themselves to deploy it in certain instances. It’s a high-value asset—perhaps because it can be scarce and difficult to mine. In the business world, it’s so much more than lip service about a more positive corporate culture. Like so many aspects of business, the example needs to be set from the top, and that takes some serious introspection, and being willing to admit your own weaknesses. And others’ complementing strengths. It’s not easy, and I suspect that’s why it’s not as popular as it should be. But it will improve the bottom line, enhance efficiency and productivity, and make for a happy and healthy workforce. Why not work on securing this proven business asset? After all, no matter who you are, it starts with you.