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Why emotional intelligence drives performance at work

Daniel Goleman, Author, Emotional Intelligence

You have a job to do, a team to lead. How you go about it, and how you manage your colleagues as you do, depends not only on how you feel, but how aware you are of your own state of mind, and of what’s going on for those around you.

In a busy, results-driven workplace, it’s easy to dismiss emotional intelligence. Not as a concept, perhaps, but as a must-learn skill for success. We know when we are happy, sad, scared angry or in love. And when we’re working, many of us know that how we feel has to take a back seat. There’s a job to be done and your bad mood after a difficult commute to the office isn’t going to change that.

Except that it is. And so is the mood of your boss who strolls into the office after a dawn paddle across a serene harbour, or the person at the next desk whose daughter threw up on her just as she was about to walk out of the door this morning. It happens.

Experts in emotional intelligence (EI)  say that how we feel affects the quality of our decisions, behaviour and responses towards others. They also suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned, practised and increased.

Measuring the actual impact emotional intelligence (EI) has on your success at work is not an exact science. The most popular statistic – attributed to a study by Carnegie Mellon Institute of Technology – that your IQ influences only 15% of financial success, leaves a whopping 85% of your success to other factors, which they suggest are primarily EI. Researchers at the University of Michigan are more moderate. Their research identifies a specific impact of emotional intelligence to between 1% and 7%. But is even a 7% effectiveness boost to be sneezed at?

What is emotional intelligence, really?

Emotional intelligence is “intelligently using emotion to produce a desired result,” says Dr Ben Palmer, CEO of Genos International and developer of the first set of Emotional Intelligence tools developed in Australia that orientate specifically towards outcomes at work. “We bring awareness about the science of emotions to managers and how they can utilise that science to drive better decisions, behaviours and performances,” he says.

Emotional intelligence became a leadership thing in 1995 when Daniel Goleman, psychologist and New York Times science writer, published the best-selling Emotional Intelligence. His work sparked a whole body of research, including Ben Palmer’s own PhD. Emotional intelligence is now widely recognised an established capability in the leadership toolkit.

Why emotional intelligence especially matters for leaders

People perform better and have a sense of being valued in environments where they feel supported, understood and trusted. It’s the leader’s job to create such an environment.

But this is not something all leaders are good at. According to the Australian Institute of Management’s National Salary Survey (2016) four in five workers are unhappy at work. And 50% of us have quit a job because of the boss (Gallup, April 2015).

An emotionally intelligent leader can more easily create an emotionally intelligent workplace. This does not mean talking about feelings all day, Goleman himself has stressed. It is about acknowledging that underlying how we interact, the quality of the decisions we make and how people perform, is how people are feeling. “A lot of people in business get focused on culture, strategy and business in a cognitive, output focused way,” says Ben Palmer. “but fundamental to how we interact, the quality of our decisions and how people perform, are feelings.

Do emotionally intelligent leaders rise to the top?

No. And yes.

A study lead by Travis Bradberry, best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founder of TalentSmart, looked at the EI results of over a million people in TalentSmart database.

The report found that the top performers in each job category were those with the highest emotional intelligence, suggesting that if you want to do well at your job, emotional intelligence is part of the picture.

However, the highest EQ scores (the measure of EI) peaked with middle management – those roles in which you must manage up and down and around the organisation to motivate and influence. EQ scores for those in roles from director level and above, says Bradberry “descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace.”

Nonetheless, as Bradberry pointed out in, the best-performing CEOs are those with the highest EQs.

How to use emotional intelligence tools to deliver results

Dr Palmer has been working with blue chip companies to develop emotional intelligence in leaders and their teams across several industry sectors and around the world. He has a clear picture of what makes for a successful emotional intelligence program.

“In any good EI program you need mindset shifting material, from research facts and figures to experiences to help people see value. You also need a toolkit: practical models and tools that people can apply the learnings to and produce the outcomes on the job. You also need the skill set stuff, interesting role plays, and scenarios that allow real practical application of that toolkit,” he says.

The quality of the facilitator – and his or her willingness to appropriately share their own experiences and vulnerability – is also crucial if the training is going to have an impact.

4 things an excellent Emotional Intelligence trainer will do

  • tailor the content of the program to the role or the kind of work that the person or group does with relevant role plays and scenarios
  • read the results of EI assessments in context and in conjunction with other findings
  • appropriately share their own experience and vulnerabilities
  • bridge the gap between the theory, the EI assessment data and the actual leadership development that needs to be realised
  • emphasise that the real work of creating lasting change to emotional intelligence capabilities happens after the classroom, when the leader chooses to challenge him or herself to put what they have learned into practice, daily.

Dr Benjamin Palmer (FAIM) is the CEO and Co-founder of Genos International. Genos International’s Emotional Intelligence tools are available through the Australian Institute of Management. To find out more about the Genos EI tools or any one of AIM’s Management Diagnostic Tools, please click here.


You can get everything else right — hiring, strategy, innovation — but if you fail to drive peoples’ emotions in the right direction, nothing will work as well as it could.


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