About once a month, we get the same request: “one of our leaders is lacking in emotional intelligence, are you available to coach him on this issue over the next six months?” It’s amazing how prevalent this issue is and how many different companies make this request. I never say no, and the coaching engagements are very successful. They are also a siren call for teaching emotional intelligence much earlier, rather than waiting until lack of it becomes a derailer at the threshold of a senior leadership appointment.
How early? In our view, the right time to teach emotional intelligence is when an individual is designated as a high potential employee. This is the career point when the shift is taking place from individual contributor to people leader or where progression is taking place from manager of few to a leader. What is the best approach for teaching emotional intelligence at this career point? The most effective approach is to use simulation workshops heavily tailored to your culture. Believe it or not, emotional intelligence is deeply informed by culture because the behaviors that emotional intelligence triggers will differ significantly based on cultural expectations.
For example, if a company’s culture demands that resources be quickly marshaled to meet a crisis, the leader who steps back to take a more measured, thoughtful approach will be considered as lacking emotional intelligence because his apparent passivity will seem inattentive to peoples’ needs in the moment. In contrast, where the company’s culture expects a thoughtful response to a crisis, a quick-acting leader will be seen as lacking emotional intelligence because his response was too rushed.
You may react to these examples by pointing out that they describe differences in cultural intelligence, rather than emotional intelligence. In reality though, while cultural intelligence and emotional intelligence are defined slightly differently in the literature, they are generally indistinguishable in practice. In fact, the reason simulation workshops work so well is that they are based on how to handle real business scenarios intelligently in the context of your culture. In these workshops, the facilitators explain and demonstrate emotionally intelligent behaviors in response to the scenarios. The behaviors are then role played by participants in small breakout groups under the guidance of expert facilitators. Afterwards, the participants make commitments to use the correct behaviors in specific business situations and are supported in this activity by targeted coaching over a three-month period.
Interestingly, when emotional intelligence is taught this way it sticks, even where culture later changes or leaders switch jobs. This high touch, context connected, learning-by-doing approach changes future behavior dramatically. It has several distinct benefits:
- ● Leaders are spared the later stigma of needing individual development in this area based on mistakes they’ve already made
- ● Your managers’ abilities are greatly strengthened by critical behavioral development
- ● Future leaders become known for their emotional intelligence and this capability is naturally modeled by the broader workforce
So, let’s get it right now rather than trying to fix it later when it may be too late.