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Competency & Emotional Intelligence

August 1, 2016 06:51 AM 1
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Competency & Emotional Intelligence

In 1999, Katherine Adams interviewed Daniel Goleman for Competency & Emotional Intelligence, talking to him about his theory of emotional intelligence, its relevance to the workplace and whether or not organisations themselves might be emotionally intelligent. 

Probably more than one other single person, Daniel Goleman is responsible for bringing the concept of emotional intelligence into everyday life and, in particular, to the world of work. When Katherine Adams interviewed him, he was visiting the United Kingdom to promote the launch of his second book on emotional intelligence, in which he relates his ideas to the workplace. 

Published in 1995, Emotional intelligence1 was an overnight bestseller. Goleman’s idea that there was another kind of intelligence, just as important as IQ but based on feelings rather than rationality, struck a chord around the world, and the book was translated into 25 languages. 

The book began with the insight that people who had high IQ could nevertheless fail – at school, at work,and in relationships. Goleman’s idea was that success in life depends just as much on abilities like self-awareness, self-control and empathy, which are rooted in the “emotional brain”. 

If this view has a familiar ring to readers of this journal, it is not really surprising. At Harvard, Goleman studied psychology under the late David McClelland, who is widely regarded as the founding father of the competency movement. At the start of his career in the early 1970s, Goleman worked for the McBer consultancy (now known as Hay/McBer) which McClelland had founded in 1963 and which carried out some of the first competency work for US organisations. 

Managing emotions at work 

Goleman’s latest book, Working with emotional intelligence2, draws on work from the burgeoning competency industry which began in those pioneering days, and those influences are clear to see. The book is, at least in part, an attempt to describe those “essential human competencies” that can really make a difference to someone’s success in life. 

What Goleman’s work also “brings to the party”, though, is an explanation of just why abilities like self-awareness and empathy should be so important – an explanation that is rooted in biological science. 

As a journalist covering the behavioural and brain sciences for the New York Times, Goleman had become aware of several new areas of neurological research. These showed that the parts of the brain responsible for the emotions functioned separately, but in parallel to, those parts responsible for rational thought. 

This research allowed Goleman to argue that the emotions have the power either to sabotage or enhance rational thought. Crucial to the well-balanced person’s success in life, he argues, is the ability to manage emotions so that they work in harmony with rationality. And this is what Goleman calls “emotional intelligence” or EQ. 

Goleman’s latest book brings the notion of “emotional competence” right back to McClelland’s starting-point: the workplace. When Goleman came to London recently to promote the book, I talked to him about this latest attempt to codify the competencies of what he calls “star performers”, and about his claim that organisations as a whole should be trying to become more emotionally intelligent. 

Tidal wave 

In his latest book, Goleman describes the reaction of business people to the idea of emotional intelligence as a “tidal wave”. I began by asking him why he felt
his ideas should have met with such an eager response, and why this should have happened now. 

He told me: “I was shocked, actually, by the worldwide receptiveness to this message. When I wrote the first book, it was full of American examples; it wasn’t
written with a worldwide audience in mind.” 

He thinks there are two reasons why emotional intelligence should have hit such a nerve: “One is that people everywhere are struggling with the same problems and human issues. I think that the ratcheting up of global competitiveness, and the resulting demands for adaptability, for managing stress, for teamwork, for collaboration, are escalating, and in the workplace people are feeling this.” 

The second reason, he thinks, is the fact that his ideas are based on scientific research: “Emotional intelligence is based on a new understanding of neurology and of brain function, and I think this gives it a lot of credibility. Working for the New York Times I saw, emerging from 10 years of data, new insights into the nature of human abilities, and some very profound implications for personal development, and for business and for education.” 

Emotional competencies 

Goleman’s latest book draws on research into competency frameworks in nearly 500 organisations which, he says, showed a remarkable degree of similarity. In fact, he believes the ubiquity of competency headings like “self-awareness”,
“interpersonal skills”, and so on provides independent confirmation of the importance of emotional intelligence. He told me: “It’s encouraging to me that
people using different methodologies, operating from different assumptive systems, and working in very different organisational cultures all come up with the same ingredients.” 

The book argues that emotional intelligence matters twice as much as IQ or technical expertise when it comes to distinguishing “star performers” from the
merely average employee. And the fact that so many employers are including “emotional competencies” in their frameworks, Goleman says, “gives me more
confidence in saying that this is true for jobs of all kinds”. 

The book suggests its own “emotional competence framework” consisting of 25 competencies listed under five “domains”: self-awareness, self-regulation,
motivation, empathy and social skills. Goleman told me he thought that organisations could use the model to check their own frameworks and make sure they had not overlooked any crucial emotional competencies. But was he really suggesting, I wondered, that every employee in every organisation across the globe needed the same 25 competencies? 

He replied: “No. I think you have to understand that this is a generic model. Every organisation in the  world is like every other organisation in some aspects.” He realises, he says, that organisations are also unique, and he thinks that competency models “can get increasingly precise: you can come up with one that is unique to that company.” However, he argues that “the fact that there is such a large shared variance at the general level makes me feel that it is very useful methodologically and practically to have a general model.” 

This may be especially true, he feels, for the most senior people in an organisation. He said: “As you go up the organisational ladder, the ratio of excellence that’s attributable to emotional intelligence is larger – at the top levels, it’s about 85% to 90%. And I think – though this is just a theoretical speculation – that there may be greater similarity between companies in terms of what’s needed for outstanding leadership.” 

The subject of leadership is one that has exercised Goleman a good deal. As well as covering it in depth in his latest book, he has also recently published an
article on the subject3. Goleman told me: “I was very interested in McClelland’s data in the PepsiCo study4, which has also been replicated in some other
companies. He found that the outstanding leaders had a critical mass of strengths that came from all of the emotional intelligence domains.” 

He went on: “If you don’t have self-management skills, you’ll be Bill Clinton – you may be fabulous at empathy and have incredible social skills, but the fact that you can’t control your impulses is going to sabotage you. The PepsiCo study offers good evidence of the catalytic interaction that occurs when you have
skills across the domains – that’s where you find the really exceptional people. And that suggests a very strong business case for grooming people for these
abilities, or selecting people with these abilities, particularly for top leadership.” 

As this line of thought had led us on to the issue of selection, I questioned Goleman as to whether, in fact, he saw this as a suitable use for his emotional
competence model. Does the model – with its list of competencies like “self-confidence”, “adaptability”, “initiative”, “service orientation” and “change catalyst” – lend itself to translation into application forms, interview questions and so forth? 

As his answer shows, Goleman has some reservations about this. He told me: “I think people have to be very careful. On the one hand, it makes good sense. You do want to do a systematic interview and listen for whether people have these abilities or not. I think that the really good executive recruiters, for instance, are people who have emotional intelligence and who recognise it in others. But I don’t think you should use the model for any kind of selection test.” 

In fact, he is scathing about “so-called EQ tests”. He argued: “There are several self-report tools that are being sold as tests of emotional intelligence, but I think it would be a big mistake to use any of them for selection, if only because the first domain of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. If someone is low on that ability, how are you going to trust any of their other self-assessments, just for one? And for another: if you ask someone how empathic they are and then correlate that with an objective measure, the correlation is about zero. If you ask people who know that person well, you get a very high correlation, but you can’t do that when you’re hiring people because you don’t get straight responses.” 

Nor is he happy with the idea of using his emotional competence model for pay. He said: “If you use a competence model for reward, you’re making a leap of faith. I think people too often have a naïve understanding of competence models. Whether a person does well or not depends on many factors, one of the most powerful of which is whether they have the  critical mass of competencies. What that critical mass looks like may differ from person to person, and someone may be quite outstanding but draw on a competence you don’t even have in your model. So, I think that performance alone should be the criterion for reward.” 

Influences: McClelland, Boyatzis 

Much of the data about competency frameworks which Goleman uses in his latest book comes from the work of Hay/McBer, the consulting firm David McClelland set up. Goleman told me: “Partly, that was because of my ongoing friendship with David, who was still sharing data with me 25 years after I’d left McBer.” 

He added: “What appealed to me about David McClelland’s work, when I came back to it, was that there was a methodology, and one I was familiar with.” This was the “behavioural event interview” technique pioneered by McClelland. 

In a further link with his early career, Goleman’s new consulting firm, Emotional Intelligence Services, has formed a partnership with the Hay Group to deliver programmes to assess and develop emotional  intelligence. Also participating in this venture is Richard Boyatzis, another former student of McClelland’s – and against whose celebrated model of managerial competence5 Goleman told me he had cross-checked his own emotional competence model. 

When I interviewed Boyatzis recently for this journal6, he was very concerned to emphasise that competency’s roots lay in the idea of developing people. I wondered whether Goleman shared this focus. Surely, when it comes to something as fundamental as the emotions, there is a limited amount anyone can do to change them? 

Development – “worst practice” 

I found, however, that Goleman was just as passionate about development as Boyatzis had been. He told me: