• Date April 16, 2013
  • Author teleos

by:Abhijit Bhaduri

Dr Annie McKee is Senior Fellow and Director, Penn CLO Executive Doctoral Programme. She is a bestselling business book author and advisor to top leaders. Her book “Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion” is found on many a leader’s bookshelf.

Dr McKee’s and her colleagues studies on 300 leaders from 15 companies show that careers get derailed due to deficits in 3 areas: difficulty in handling change, not being able to work well in a team and poor personal relations. 70% of all change initiatives do not succeed due to people issues—inability to lead, ineffective teams, etc.

Research shows that, IQ determines what job you can get and hold, while EI predicts how well you will do in that career – whether you have the motivation and social abilities to be a star performer or leader. Successful people have higher self-awareness and know what will motivate or demotivate them. They also are able to avoid bursts of emotions. Better social awareness makes them more tuned to the political undercurrents in an organization.

Abhijit: What is emotional intelligence? Is it the same as someone having greater empathy? 

Annie McKee: Emotional Intelligence (EI) is an umbrella term that encompasses competencies related to self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Empathy is a social awareness competency. But what is empathy? Simply put, it is the ability to accurately read and understand the needs, motivations, beliefs and desires of others.  Clearly, in today’s multi-cultural organizations, this skill is a must-have for success at all levels.


Abhijit:  Are people with greater EI more successful?

Annie McKee: “Great leaders move people.” People who have developed EI are able to touch people’s hearts and minds. They inspire others powerfully and positively while engaging them in the quest for shared goals. But, EI isn’t just about individual behavior–it’s about creating resonance in the team or organizational climate. Research tells us that when the climate is marked by hope, enthusiasm and appropriate challenges, results soar. New sales managers who scored high on a test of optimism sold 37% more in their first two years than pessimists.

Abhijit:  The popular belief is that leaders need to take decisions by thinking through logic. When we add emotions to the mix, can we still be effective?

Annie McKee: Human beings are amazingly complex creatures—as are the environments in which we live and work. The problems we face in our world today are huge Therefore, it seems unwise to us to relegate decision making to only one aspect of our humanity—our logical minds. However magnificent our cognitive capabilities, there are other “intelligences” that can help us gather, filter and use data to make decisions. Emotions, for example, are often extremely helpful. Case in point: When the brain’s hemispheres have been surgically separated, interrupting the flow of emotional impulses, people have trouble making even the simplest decisions, such as what color clothing to wear.  Intuition improves decision making. Contrary to popular thinking, intuition isn’t magical—it is a complex process that brings knowledge, experience, cognition and emotion together to help us understand new problems.

Abhijit: What are early signs we can see in people who have greater EI?

Annie McKee: People whose EI competencies are finely honed can be easily spotted.  First, you can literally feel that they care about you and others. They understand that emotions are contagious and they deliberately share their inner feelings in a way that is supportive and compassionate.  This is true even when the emotions they feel the need to share are not particularly positive (e.g. anger, which, as with all emotions, has its place occasionally). That’s because being emotionally intelligent doesn’t always mean being nice.  Emotionally intelligent people use their own and others’ emotions in the service of strengthening relationships.

Second, emotionally intelligent leaders are curious and interested in people. They listen beyond people’s words for facts, feelings, motivations, hopes and dreams.  And they are willing to act on what they discover about people to help individuals and groups achieve goals and realize dreams. Finally, emotionally intelligent leaders are strong without being overbearing, positive and caring without being silly or sappy.

Abhijit: How can we develop these competencies?

Annie McKee: EI competencies are complicated. That’s because they include aspects of deep-seated beliefs, experiences, emotional and other memories, culture, gender and habits that have developed over a person’s entire lifetime. Take emotional self management, for example. This competency has a cultural component that is linked to things like what emotions can be expressed, with whom, when and how. Similarly, self-management has a gender component (e.g., how men and women manage their emotions tends to be different).

Given this complexity, how, then, can people learn and develop EI? The answer is that it starts with a dream—a very personal dream. Say you want to develop emotional self-management. You focus your thinking on the unpleasant outbursts you tend to have when stressed. You start to justify why you blow up, how fruitless it would be to change, and the like. You’re done before you start. If, on the other hand, you imagine a key relationship and what it will be like in the future—happier, less volatile and the like, you become inspired and energized. You’re ready to get down to the hard work of change.

Most people fail to develop complex competencies because they take the opposite approach—they start with what today looks like. This is depressing and demoralizing and people tend to give up before they change.

Abhijit: Do women have “better” EI than men?

Annie McKee: People often say things like “Empathy comes naturally to women.” Or, “Women are just better at building relationships than men.” It is in part true that there are some competencies that women tend to learn earlier and more deliberately in life (e.g. empathy) and some where this is true for men (e.g. emotional self-management). However, when it comes to leadership, there are no measurable differences between women’s and men’s EI. Men do, however, get more credit for demonstrating EI than women do.


Read: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters More Than IQ

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First published in my Times of India blog