The Concept of Emotional Intelligence As theory evolves, the essential concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has undergone revision, and revision expanding its basic meaning. Initially, EI was perceived as a complex system of feeling and thought, in which the various elements function in complementary ways. It was seen as the ability to monitor one’s own emotions and feelings, as well as those of others, and to employ this information to guide thought and behavior (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2008, p. 504). This definition remains largely in place, but variables continue to be identified and the impacts of personal traits are now seen as influencing EI through how traits determine actual perception of emotion, which in turn affects how thinking occurs. For example, an excess of emotional aggression may dominate how an individual reasons, just as a nature too impulsive may block awareness of emotional realities. Similarly, empathy may enable a better means of applying thinking because the enhanced understanding of others provides more information. With EI, then, an exponential reality exists in how combined emotional traits influence rational processes. Self-control is necessary, but equally important is the knowledge of how emotion may work to provide vital information, as well as the critical element of support.
At the same time, distinctions remain between emotional and intelligence quotients. The primary difference in measurement here goes to an individual’s abilities to process information, learn, and reason (intelligence quotient) and the EI reality is determined by measuring how a person recognizes and comprehends emotions in the self and in others. The quotients inevitably interact, in terms of: “Appraisal and expression of emotion, regulation of emotion and utilization of emotions in solving problems” (Schutte et al, 1998, p. 168). In fact, it seems that, as research evolves, the impacts of the twin intelligences are mutually inclusive.
EI as Necessary to Leaders Today
As business today expands in directions previously unknown, leaders must expand as well, and address how cultural diversity, globalization, and advances in technology are vastly influencing how organizations function. Moreover, there is a modern emphasis on corporate social responsibility (CSR) that demands understanding of issues on emotional levels. Essentially, leaders who use emotions to guide decision making motivate subordinates and encourage open-minded idea generation, simply because employing emotion allows them to consider multiple points of view (Gardner, Stough, 2002, p. 70). This process, for example, enables the leader to fully recognize how employees from other cultures face multiple challenges in the business environment, and how their difficulties may present opportunities for diversity training and a more cohesive organization. Then, modern ideologies go to promoting the employee’s circumstances as an individual, and the leader better able to relate to this emotionally is poised to enhance commitment levels from employees, as a sense of being valued and understood as a person tends to improve self-esteem and consequently performance.
When, however, the leader ignores EI, the repercussions may be disastrous. A failure to comprehend emotion personally and in terms of others may easily create an environment felt to be sterile, or even hostile, and worker retention is threatened. Moreover, the leader not utilizing EI dramatically impedes communication; the lack of human connection generated by EI essentially limits how communication is both transmitted and received, and because the rote relaying of instructions or information may only present minimal ideas of goals, motivations, and the perspectives of the organization as a whole.
Elements and Values of EI
Without question, a wide range of elements go to how leaders may enhance both the organization’s functioning and their own impacts. To begin with, and perhaps ironically, control of emotion is seen as admirable in leaders and motivational for subordinates: “Leaders who are able to understand and manage their emotions and display self-control act as role models for followers” (Gardner, Stough, 2002, p. 70). This aspect does not negate emotion or send the message that emotion is valueless; rather, it more conforms to the focus employees typically expect in their leaders, as it also may inspire the workforce to similarly exhibit self-control.
Then, utilizing EI in interaction with employees offers leaders inestimable opportunities to both demonstrate high ethical standards and enhance productivity (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2008, p. 511). When the leader is “open” to the feelings of employees, they gain an important insight into how the individuals feel about their jobs, which in turn goes to a greater understanding of their performances. This relates to empathy, and it is in fact a highly practical approach. The failure to consider employee feelings may easily impede information as to why performance is inadequate. Awareness of the individual’s emotional state, as well as a willingness or ability to empathize with it, then promotes key understanding and supplies options in addressing the issue. In plain terms, there is no strict dichotomy between how people feel and how they behave or conduct their jobs. Recognizing this reality and committing to valuing the emotions of subordinates then enables a virtually limitless opportunity to enhance the organization.
Strategy in Implementing EI
If an organization is to survive and succeed in today’s challenging markets, it is necessary that the highest tiers of it take steps to encourage the application of EI by its management team. This need not take the form of “sensitivity training” as such; instead, leaders may mist effectively convey the benefits of EI through example. Leaders invariably “set the tone” of the organization. How they themselves behave and communicate with those subordinate to them, and at every level of the business, creates the ethos of the environment and establishes expectations of behavior. The leader who then exhibits an expansive sense of how others are actually feeling generates caring and commitment likely to improve morale and promote employee effort.
Leading by example aside, there is as well the benefit of devising training in basic social skills in management. Those supervising others must understand that employees are by no means strictly defined as such. They are individuals who require respect in order to be motivated, and respect is in place when their feelings are acknowledged. Consequently, managers must be trained in the concept that application of EI furthers the interests of all. The traditional idea that emotion has no place in the workforce is both antiquated and destructive. Training should then be in place which instructs in utilizing EI while maintaining professionalism and perspective. Moreover, the training itself must reflect EI principles, as the leader takes in how management emotionally perceives the emphasis. This in fact allows for a further training by example. As managers understand that their feelings and viewpoints are being recognized, so too will they be more induced to reflect similar considerations and apply the approaches to those they supervise. The leader, of course, must be careful in establishing boundaries as to how EI functions in the organization. It must be understood that an appreciation of employee emotion cannot be allowed to be unduly personal or excessive in concern. Nonetheless, as managers are encouraged to appreciate the value of EI, it is probable that the parameters will be known to them as well. With such training in place, then, the organization is enabled to operate in ways promoting ethics and CSR, just as productivity will be encouraged by the expressions of interest and leadership care.
- Gardner, L., & Stough, C. (2002). Examining the relationship between leadership and emotional intelligence in senior level managers. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 23(2), 68-78.
- Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2008). Emotional intelligence: new ability or eclectic traits?. American Psychologist, 63(6), 503-516.
- Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 25(2), 167-177.