By James V. D’Ambrosio

(This is the first in a series focusing on emotional intelligence in the workplace.)

Emotional intelligence is defined as “a leader’s ability to recognize one’s own feelings and those of others for self-motivation and for managing emotions in themselves and in relationships with others.” The key is an awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur.

The concept dates back to Darwin’s work on the importance of emotional expression for survival and adaptation. In the 1900’s, despite traditional definitions of intelligence focusing on memory and problem-solving, researchers in intelligence began recognizing the importance of non-cognitive aspects. As early as 1920, E.L. Thorndike coined the term ‘social intelligence’ to describe the skill of understanding and managing people.

While there was growing acknowledgment among professionals of the relevance of emotions to work outcomes, it was not until Daniel Goleman’s 1996 best seller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, that the term became widely known. Goleman believed that emotional competencies are not innate talents, but rather learned skills that must be  developed to result in excellent performance. He postulated that people are born with a general emotional intelligence determining their ability to master emotional competencies.

Research suggests four basic capabilities composed of specific competencies:

Self-Awareness: The ability to read and understand your emotions and realize their impact on work performance and relationships; accurate self-assessment (realistic evaluation of your strengths and limitations); and self-confidence.

Self-Management: Emotional self-control (a person’s ability to control disruptive emotions and impulses); transparency (consistently displaying honesty and integrity); adaptability (flexibility adapting to changing situations and overcoming obstacles); achievement-orientation (the drive to improve performance and meet internal standards of excellence); initiative (readiness to seize opportunities); and optimism.  

Social Awareness: Having empathy (skill at sensing others’ emotions, understanding their perspective and taking an active interest in their concerns); organizational awareness (an ability to read organizational life and navigate politics); and a service orientation (ability to recognize and meet follower, client and customer’ needs).

Relationship Management: Inspirational leadership (guiding and motivating with a compelling vision); influence (using a range of persuasive techniques); developing others (mentoring through feedback and guidance); change agent  (proficiency in initiating new ideas and leading people in new directions); conflict management (ability to resolve disagreements and orchestrate resolutions); building bonds (cultivating and maintaining a network of relationships); and teamwork (promoting cooperation and building trust).

Realistically, few leaders possess strengths in every aspect of emotional intelligence, but very effective leaders usually have strengths in at least of five or six key areas. While IQ is certainly needed for effective leadership, emotional intelligence is essential for managers to lead successfully.

In Part II, I’ll discuss how emotional intelligence positively impacts the workplace.

5 Responses

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