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  • Cathy Norris

To Be a Great Manager, Bring On Your Emotional Intelligence

Updated: May 12

Think back over the managers you’ve worked for in your career. Who was your favorite? (Pause and think.) Now think about why. What did that manager do that set him or her apart? What adjectives would you use to describe him or her?

Did he trust you, have faith in you, and help you work in your areas of interest? Did she give you autonomy, opportunities to lead, and accurate feedback? Was he positive, encouraging, and understanding? Was she ethical and honest?

Now think about your performance during that time. Were you more productive? Did you sharpen your abilities or develop new skills under that person? How well did your team or organization work together to get things done? Did it reach its goals and perhaps new heights of achievements?

Your favorite manager likely treated you the way you wanted to be treated – like you were important and that he cared about how he treated you. When you take a look at his outcomes as well, you’ll likely see the business case for emotional intelligence in action: leaders higher in emotional intelligence (EI) outperform those low in EI.

The Leadership Edge

The connection between leadership and emotional intelligence has been extensively studied. Daniel Goleman found a link between an executive’s emotional intelligence and his or her financial performance that's driven throughout the organization from the climate he or she creates.

Goleman says, “The leader’s mood and behaviors act like a contagion, driving the moods and behaviors of everyone else, like electricity through wires.” [i]

In a 2009 study, 186 executives were tested on emotional intelligence, then their scores were compared with their company’s profitability. The executives with higher levels of emotional intelligence (including empathy and accurate self-awareness) were more likely to be highly profitable.[ii]

What is the impact for leaders who have low EI? The Center for Creative Leadership found that 75% of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including inability to handle interpersonal problems; unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty or conflict; or inability to adapt to change or elicit trust.[iii]

What I’ve noticed in effective leaders I’ve worked with is that they’ve taken on attitudes that showed their team they cared about them. For instance, Ralph, a division director, sees relationships as more important than deadlines. He schedules time in his day to walk the halls and talk to his employees. He also schedules regular one-on-one meetings with his staff just to get to know them better. Do deadlines slip? Occasionally, but he’s building strong relationships with his team members that will ultimately boost his productivity in the long run, as well as his retention rate.

Sally, a state agency supervisor, has an attitude of sharing her team management decisions with her team and frequently asks for their input. She is also conscious about the effect her comments may have on her team and aware that the slightest reprimand or off-the-cuff comment may demotivate them.

The Good News

The good news is people can change emotional intelligence with the same type of effort they apply to changing any behavior or habit. It may seem difficult to change old habits! However, neuroscientists have discovered we can train our brains to form new neural connections. A growing and vast amount of research shows that when individuals take steps to increase their EI, they see positive results which correlate to benefits in their relationships, their performance results, and their well-being.

The bottom line is this: High levels of emotional intelligence such as showing interest, kindness and encouragement create climates of high collaboration which result in information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning. Low levels of emotional intelligence create climates of fear and anxiety. Which environment would you perform better in?

[i] Goleman, D., Boyatix, R., and McKee, A., Primal Leaadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002).

[ii] Stein, S.J., Papadogiannis, P., Yip, J.A., & Sitarenios, G. (2009). Emotional intelligence of leaders: A profile of top executives. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 30(1), 87-101.

[iii] “Leadership Skills & Emotional Intelligence.” CCL. 2001. http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/assessments/skills_intelligence.pdf.



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