By now, most of us have heard of the actual skills that are required to succeed in today’s work place: the “soft” skills like listening, detecting moods, reading power relationships, collaborating and influencing.
For a long time, many of these skills were not recognised as core competencies because they exist under the surface and have been hard to measure.
Daniel Goleman’s Working With Emotional Intelligence is all about explaining what these skills look like and how you can actually train in becoming more emotionally intelligent.
In this post, I share some of the key insights that are still valid for today’s business and organisational world, and also share the evidence what you can achieve if you start investing in your emotional intelligence.
Using emotional competence to drive leadership success
The problem with many of our recruitment strategies is that we measure this person purely based on her or his past performance: the awards, the educational level, and technical expertise.
Yet, many of the core skills that are needed for success and truly driving innovation within organisations often hardly lie in the number of degrees: some people might ace school and college education but are really difficult to work with and hence are unable to succeed in their roles.
This is what Goleman calls the Peter Principle: the classic mistake “assuming that if someone has a special expertise, it necessarily means that they also have the ability to lead” (p. 43).
Hence, just having mere expertise and having been at an organisation for a very long time is no longer accepted (or should not be) as the fast track to career glory.
Multiple studies by now have also shown that being highly intelligent e.g. scoring high in IQ tests or possessing strong technical knowledge plays almost no role in leadership success.
In fact, 90% of the superior performance of star performers can be attributed to emotional intelligence such as influencing skills, achievement drive, and political awareness amongst others.
Understanding what emotional intelligence consists of can help us also in doing broader personal reflections over our own leadership journey and where our strengths and weaknesses lie.
Competence vs. Intelligence
Two key concepts underpin the discussion as to the kinds of skills and capacities that we have within ourselves: emotional competence and intelligence.
Emotional competence is “a learned capability based on emotional intelligence that result in outstanding performance at work” (p. 24).
This kind of competency builds on empathy (being able to understand how others are feeling) and social skills (understanding how to navigate those feelings and sentiments with others).
Emotional intelligence (EQ) on the other hand
“determines our potential for learning the practical skills that are based on its five elements: self-awareness, motivation, self-regulation, empathy, and adeptness in relationships” (p. 24).
Goleman further differentiates between Personal Competence (competencies that relate to how we manage ourselves) and Social Competence (how we manage our relationships with others).
Personal Competence is mainly clustered around the themes of Self-Awareness (understanding one’s internal feelings and thoughts), Self-regulation (managing one’s feelings and thoughts) and Motivation (factors that help us to achieve our goals).
Social Competence instead includes Empathy (how we relate to others and understand their feelings and behaviour), and Social Skills (able to manage conflicts and social relationships in an influential manner).
Yet, no one scores perfectly on all aspects: true success only requires that we excel at least in six of these and these should be spread across the five elements.
And the good news is that everyone can increase these skill sets if they choose to do so: someone who is not confident about themselves can develop more self-confidence, people who talk too much can learn to listen, you can learn to “read the room” in order to see what others might be feeling and thinking.
Developing and understanding our emotional intelligence
Especially now that many of us are stuck at home due to social distancing across the globe, and sometimes we only have our members of household to talk to, now can actually be quite a good time to start thinking and becoming more emotional competent.
The three themes in Personal Competence (Self-awareness, Self-regulation and Motivation) all are internal workings that we have fully control over.
Becoming more self-aware for example requires stopping and recognising our feelings and thoughts (emotional awareness) while also learning to self-regulate those feelings and thoughts.
Many highly successful people for example spend significant time in journaling each morning or creating space and time for themselves to reflect, to identify the feelings and thoughts that sit with them that morning.
Part of self-regulation is that of adaptability, being able to go with the flow, and regulate your thoughts and feelings while also remaining open for innovation, for novel ideas that can also challenge our norms and assumptions.
But the competencies around empathy for example call for us to develop others and finding opportunities to support their growth, and also instilling them increased self-confidence that they can develop new skills and new ideas.
Many of these skills don’t take much to do in practice but it is more about being mindful where opportunities for practicing emotional intelligence emerge in our daily lives both at home and at work.
Starting at home
I can tell you that after 4 weeks of social distancing with my son at home, I’ve had to spend significant amount of time in particular in self-regulation with varied success and failures…
But instead of hoping that this time will pass as fast as it can, I am now hopefully focusing on our joint adaptability and also fostering emotional intelligence and its aspects in my conversations and behaviour with him.
Most mothers feel like they are failing when they cannot stay perfect and live up to those happy snaps of everyone just laughing and doing housework while singing their heads off.
That’s not the reality for many and this experience has really already taught me that to lead, you have to put in the work not just on how you treat others and understand their behaviour but also how you exercise self-control in every aspect.
With many of us being inside most of the time, the opportunities to practice empathy and using our social skills for the good are now endless.
But these skills are absolutely crucial in how we care, lead and manage at work and perhaps this window of time can teach many of us what that looks like in practice.
As Goleman aptly points, these kinds of skills are the ones that separate star performers from the rest, not the technical expertise or knowhow but simply by being an emotionally competent human to other humans.