How important is EQ in leadership?

Boy outside principalHave you seen the T shirts that have the words “There are 10 types of people, those that understand binary and those who don’t.” on them?

Are there two types of leaders, those who understand EQ and those who don’t?

Perhaps those who are not aware tend towards claiming it does not exist. I have heard of people claiming there is no such thing as stress, so it is possible. People may be so unaware of EQ and the impact it has that they fail to see the signs at all. In such cases any problems may be put down to some other cause, perhaps laziness, not having the “right stuff”, not tough enough and many more.  If you only see the world in black and white then there is no reason to buy a colour TV!

I ask this question because on occasions I have seen leaders so unaware of the emotional needs of others that they must be a) totally unaware or b) acting with some unfathomable intent.

To me an aspect of EQ is being aware of the emotional needs and state of others by reading the smallest of signs. It is easy to think somebody is upset when they burst into tears or slam the door on the way out but this excludes the aspects of character and personality that make us all different.  For some, who never go this far, it may by a slight drop of the head or a gaze out of the window and such signs can easily be missed if you are not EQ aware.

Let me give you an example of how those leaders who are EQ aware and those who are not may respond to somebody demonstrating extreme emotional disturbance to the extent of it affecting them mentally. An extreme example perhaps but one which I hope will make you think because the possible consequences of missing it are so awful.

Leader of organisation (L) is having a meeting with one of his department heads (DH) where the business of the day is being discussed.

DH is not his/her usual positive self. Comments are made slowly and deliberately. The meeting makes progress and business is attended to.

At the end of the meeting there is no sense of achievement from DH, only relief that the meeting is over. With business concluded the meeting ends with each one going their separate ways.

L is happy, the meeting achieved everything he/she needed or wanted. To his/her colleagues DH is less chatty and more business like, a little “under the weather”. DH has always been known for understanding their colleagues and those they manage. They have a knack for knowing when something is not right and take action to address the situation in both a sensitive and open manner.  People trust DH and confide in him/her.

At the next meeting between L and DH a comment is made. At the end of the meeting after business is concluded DH says openly to L that he/she is “an unhappy professional”.

L nods to show he/she has heard the comment but says nothing. There is a pause , a silence but then go they go there separate ways.

To a leader who is EQ aware a significant signal has just been seen. Earlier signs have been missed. It is the sort of thing DH would have noticed and acted on immediately. To DH a statement of that type is a significant one and one that needs addressing immediately,  it is an open cry for help. The fact that it goes unnoticed confuses DH, EQ is something so natural he/she imagines everyone possesses it. The assumption DH makes is that no one actually cares, certainly not L. The inner conflict DH experiences between wanting to do a good job, of not being heard and of feeling under valued leads to inner turmoil. The consequences of what has just occurred, after some time, leads to DH  leaving the organisation as a result of ill health.

Imagine a situation where, as a leader, you miss the signs. What might the consequences be then?

You have probably heard many times that an organisation’s greatest asset is its people. Well when we fail to meet the needs of those who work with and for us we risk losing them. The impact of this can vary greatly from being  a short term problem to one costing a great deal of money and time in recruiting, inducting and training those who replace them. An organisation may be likened to a rowing boat: many oars but one boat and one direction.  If one person stops rowing the strain is felt by the others and the speed of the boat becomes harder to maintain. It can become a case of dominoes, one falls and so does the next and so on. Everyone remaining actively rowing feels the additional burden and may begin to exhibit the same problems.

To answer my original question I believe EQ is of great importance in leadership and I hope you do too.


About AcEd

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs as well as detailing those needs: Power Belonging, Choice and Fun - PBCF. Kevin Hewitson 2019

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