Emotional Intelligence

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Theodore Roosevelt

The theme of this edition of The Edge is ‘people’. Our inspiration came from the  Maaori whakatauki (proverb) which you can see in the editorial. Emotional intelligence provides a way to empathise, coach and celebrate the unique potential that people have.

It is around 19 years since I first read the seminal book on ‘Emotional Intelligence – Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’, written by Daniel Goleman, and it has been my ‘go to’ book ever since. The effect on me was profound. Like many others in health care, I had been focusing on gaining technical skills: clinical skills, managerial skills such as business planning and, as I moved into the world of improvement and innovation, expertise in relevant tools and methods. While Goleman confirms that all of these skills are important, he describes them as “entry-level requirements” and argues that leaders with emotional intelligence are more effective than those without.

Goleman (1996) describes emotional intelligence as a group of five skills:
Self awareness – knowing your own strengths, weaknesses, values, your own emotional state and your impact on others.
Self regulation – your ability to control any disruptive impulses or moods, suspend judgement and think before acting.
Motivation – optimism and a passion to achieve for the good of a situation rather than, for example, rewards of finance or status.
Empathy – an ability to understand the emotional make up of others and a skill in being able to work with people by responding positively to their emotional reactions.
Social skills – building rapport, excellence in developing relationships and networks, an ability to find common ground, to provide constructive feedback and to build and support high performing teams.

These skills have been reflected in many books and articles on effective leadership and also surfaced when exploring the leader’s impact on the culture for innovation. We found that “Leaders have a disproportionately large effect on the cultures of organisations and systems. By their behaviours, leaders create the conditions that either hinder or aid innovation.”  ( 2010 Maher, Plsek, Price Mugglestone). This relates to all of our time at work. If the leader is moody, ruthless and negative it is likely that the part of the organisation they are in will reflect that tone with a climate that is filled with anxiety, fear and staff who underperform. If the leader is authentically positive, empowering, curious and trustworthy, staff are more likely to be inspired, have high participation and teamwork and are more likely to achieve goals that are stretching.

I have personally had the pleasure of working with leaders who have emotional intelligence. The feeling is palpably positive: not naively so, as all organisations have challenges, but there is a strong belief and passion to work to solve those challenges and a recognition that each person in a team or organisation can help to make that difference. I have also been in the position of working with leaders who have low emotional intelligence and witnessed the destruction that leaves. Staff who are very talented lose their self-esteem, feel crushed, become suspicious of one another and become sad and unproductive. I expect as you read through this you can also picture in your own mind your experiences of both types of leader. Which type of leader would you like to work with and, more importantly, which one do you aspire to be?

‘It’s about the people’, and a fundamental part of the leader’s role is to support the people we work with and those we serve. Goleman says “Modern medical care too often lacks emotional intelligence” (p 165). For patients and families each interaction with staff creates a potential for reassurance, explanation and dialogue, yet we often miss that opportunity for an emotional connection. ‘I have not got time’ is often the cry. Think seriously, think honestly and think creatively; if it was you or a member of your family, what would you need, want or expect from that interaction? Others are practising this level of emotional intelligence and connection. Learn from them. The same can be said for interacting with staff. Each interaction a leader has with staff is a fantastic opportunity for a positive connection leaving both people with a sense of purpose. There are many great role models. I urge every reader to find one and learn. Even if you already recognise and use some of the skills of emotional intelligence, we can all always learn more from each other.

All of us are privileged to be in leadership positions. Leadership is not the domain of those who may be senior in the organisational hierarchy; we are all leaders. Focussing on building your emotional intelligence will provide wonderful opportunities to work with individuals and teams to help reach both their and your full potential.

Goleman D. (1996) Emotional Intelligence – Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bloomsbury Publishing. London.
Maher L, Plsek P, Price J, Mugglestone M. (2010) A Practical Guide to Creating the Culture for Innovation. NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.

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