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The need for Emotional Intelligence (EI) in a Leader

Is an effective team a happy team?

Effective teams are not the result of ‘happy’ people. Nor are they the result of individuals making self-sacrifices for the common good of the group!

Perhaps the most misrepresentative cliché of ‘teams’ is that, “there is no ‘I’ in TEAM”.

In fact, effective teams are groups of highly motivated individuals who are striving towards their own goals but need the structure and expertise of those around them to achieve their destination. Teams are simply a group of I’s.

With such a frame around the study of teams, the effectiveness of a team has little dependence on happiness. The key to effectiveness is how well each individual can communicate with others in order to achieve their goals, and in doing so, achieve the goals of the team.

Often highly driven people have little regard for the emotional state of those around them. They strive to fulfil their own needs and could be seen as having low Emotional Intelligence. For example, it would be difficult to apply Goleman’s Five Elements of EI to individuals in effective teams (Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy, Social skills – Ref: Google it!).

I believe that teams with ‘happy people’ are likely to consist of individuals with high EI, but are not highly effective in implementing the team’s outcome.

In my younger years of management, I was committed to addressing the welfare and emotional needs of staff. My personal experience with ‘happy teams’ was that they were not focused and did not take goals seriously. Now, I prefer to find staff who are independent and driven. My main focus on team building is communication and encouraging innovation.

Do Team leaders need to manage relationships as well as operations?

I am constantly disappointed with Business courses in the VET industry that teach ‘history’ rather than contemporary business practices. The team building processes of the 1980s and 1990s is still the foundation of business courses.

The current turbulent business environment, the idiosyncrasies of younger generations who are incredible well informed and astute, and the development of modern global business empires developed through the instincts of their founders rather than outdated theories, has revealed a new approach to the management of people. Instead of nurturing staff, appealing to their emotional intelligence and relationship building, highly successful leaders are now employing the most academically intelligent people and immersing them in challenges. If they achieve the challenge, they stay employed. If they fail, they leave the organisation. Those who lack skills and application do not get, or remain, employed. Therefore, it is the responsibility of potential employees to gain the skills and knowledge required, rather than 1990s approach of making the employer responsible for training people.

I used to preach in lectures that the role of the manager was to remove the barriers that prevented staff from achieving their goals. I now see the manager as the person who defines goals and adjusts the mix of people to ensure goals are achieved. I expect staff to be creative, rather than me being creative for them. I don’t tolerate people saying they can’t do something. Instead, I expect them to use creativity to find a way to achieve the outcome I set for them.

Whilst I would like to regurgitate information form text book, say on ‘Relationship Management=Regulation’, I fail to see how many of the ‘soft’ processes commonly described will produce efficient and effective results. Twenty years ago, I managed people in that way, however there wasn’t the pressure in those days to achieve financial results and to do everything in ‘real-time’. In today’s business environment, financial goals are a daily focus, rather than yearly and customers want their questions answered and products delivered in real time; not in a week or a month. There is not time or the justification for spending money on paying people to ‘build bonds’, ‘arouse enthusiasm’ or build a ‘team identity’; along with the other soft practices.

Is a leader who cannot recognise and control their own emotions worse than ineffective?

I agree with this statement. Most management training I have delivered over the past 25 years has begun with an analysis of the manager’s personal development; from birth to current time.

No one can manage others if they have personal hang-ups, do not know where their life is heading, and cannot manage their feeling, finances and fantasies. Study of their own Emotional Intelligence may be a useful instrument to foster understanding.

Managers who are controlling, aggressive, disorganised, poor communicators or lack problem solving skills will generally hinder the achievement of staff. Nevertheless, I believe that staff should take responsibility for their own Emotional Intelligence and, like the manager, learn to understand themselves. Once they gain some insight into their own needs and behaviours, they can change anything with which they are not satisfied or create a personal work environment conducive to their style or personality.

Is it more important for a leader to have EI than high intelligence?

This comment would gain different responses depending on the definition and context of the term ‘leader’. After studying a course work subject devoted to Leadership in my doctorate, I concluded that ‘leaders’ don’t really exist, but instead, leadership is a product of a state of existence within the greater environment of chaos and constant change. Leadership should be associated with an outcome, not a person. People who are often described as ‘leaders’ are really managing a situation. Therefore, it is important for them to have rational skills such as organisation, problem solving, communication and entrepreneurship rather than high Emotional Intelligence. They don’t necessarily need higher than average general intelligence.

Will a high achiever leave when the workplace turns toxic?

There are two common assumptions with which I disagree with:

  • Leaders are to blame for toxic workplaces, and that

  • Leaders, by definition, are role models.

In my extensive study of leadership, I am yet to reveal research that conclusively demonstrates that leaders are role models. I also cannot understand how a leader could be blamed for the behaviour of a staff member in the workplace. Certainly the leader may endeavour to alter the behaviour or get rid of a toxic staff member.

I have not read any research papers to suggest that high achievers invariable leave workplaces that have toxic staff; although I accept such studies may have been conducted.

I tend to think that high achievers are likely to leave a poorly run workplace so they can better achieve their goals elsewhere. The personality style of a highly intelligent person is likely to be:

  • high in individualism

  • seek challenges

  • low on interpersonal traits, and

  • low on using emotions to make judgements, decisions, and to solve problems.

Therefore, they are likely to be intolerant of toxic workplaces and would possibly move on.

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