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The benefits of emotionally intelligent leaders

Ann Swain, CEO - The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo)

While the combined qualities that are conducive to effective leadership have long been universally recognised and understood by HR strategists, the weight that emotional intelligence (EI) holds within this mix is shifting as the world of work evolves. So, what are the benefits of developing emotionally intelligent leaders? And why should we be focusing on this now?

The rise of EQ
Although the term emotional intelligence seems to have been first coined in the 1960s, the concept didn’t gain widespread recognition until the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence, was released by Daniel Goleman in 1995. Goleman was the first to popularise the definition of EI and align the theory with the array of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance. Today, we understand that emotional intelligence essentially boils down to an individual’s capacity to be aware of, control, and express their emotions, as well as their ability to handle interpersonal relationships perceptively and empathetically.

Much in the same way as a person’s IQ can be calculated, an individual’s level of emotional quotient – or EQ – can also be identified. Crucially, a person’s EQ can also be nurtured and developed. However, research suggests that while IQ levels are rising among the population, EQ levels are actually falling. That said, the significance of emotional intelligence should not be underestimated. A major study of Berkeley PHDs at the University of California over 40 years found that EQ was four times more powerful than IQ in predicting who would succeed in their field.

The value of human intelligence
In the age of AI and automation – when a growing number of process and functions can be replicated by machines – innately human traits, such as creativity and compassion, are more highly valued than ever before in the workplace. The appreciation of EI is no exception.

Perhaps this explains why research conducted with Fortune 500 CEOs by the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Melon Foundation, found that 75% of long-term job success depends on people skills, while only 25% can be attributed to technical knowledge.

EQ in the hybrid workplace
As we enter a new, post-pandemic phase of work – where team members who choose to work remotely are expected to collaborate cohesively with those in the office – communication skills are crucial. Now, more than ever, leaders must have a high level of emotional intelligence in order to gauge the unspoken sentiments of their people, and react accordingly, to maintain and boost productivity, innovation and staff wellbeing across the hybrid workplace.

Add to this the fact that the pandemic has also created a new urgency for leaders to understand the complexity of emotions that their teams may be experiencing during these unprecedented times, and it is clear to see why the perceived value of EQ has spiked.

This emerging trend is backed up by recent research from US internet provider, Verizon, which found that, before COVID-19, fewer than 20 per cent of business leaders said EQ would be an important skill for the future. Since the lockdown, however, EQ increased in significance for 69 per cent of respondents.

Leaders must be invested in the people that they work with in order to foster an open, inclusive and productive corporate culture. This can be achieved, for example, through ensuring that employees are offered the recognition they deserve and crave or the space they need to share their fears and frustrations. For some managers this comes naturally – others may need a little help.

Leading with emotional intelligence
The benefits of emotionally intelligent leaders at work – particularly in the post-pandemic age – are hard to ignore. Norwich University recently shared a study which compared outstanding managers with average managers – it found that 90 per cent of difference in performance could be attributed to emotional intelligence. Previous research by Career Builder also found that 71% of employers value EQ over IQ.

Of course, against this landscape it is unsurprising that an increasing number of HR leaders and hiring managers are recognising the benefits of assessing EQ as part of the recruitment process. What’s more, the growing recognition of the value of EQ in the workplace is also encouraging HR decision makers to explore how they can develop the emotional intelligence of their existing teams through training opportunities. According to the Human Capital Institute, 37% of surveyed organisations use emotional intelligence assessments to help inform their leadership development programmes. Here at APSCo, we recently launched our own Leading with Emotional Intelligence programme, an engaging and interactive workshop in which delegates explore their EQ in order to develop and enhance their leadership effectiveness.

It is crucial that our managers explore how their attitudes and emotions support or hinder their ability to inspire great performance in themselves and throughout their wider teams. Only through doing this, can they then develop strategies for strengthening their own – and their companies’ collective – EQ.

When it comes to the benefits of investing in EI development, the success of real-world examples speak for themselves. Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company, focused on the emotional intelligence skills of its sales force, which boosted annual performance by 12 per cent. At a Motorola manufacturing plant, meanwhile 93 per cent of employees became more productive after the facility adopted stress-reduction and emotional-intelligence programmes.

The latest leadership development research emphasises that successful leadership relies on an ability to adapt management style to different people and situations – but this can only be achieved by those who are truly in-tune with their teams. Although the concept of emotional intelligence is a relatively modern one, the relationship between EQ and business success has now been proved without doubt – and smart HR leaders are leveraging the power of emotional intelligence to capitalise on humanity in the digital age.

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