Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success

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The Importance of Being Emotionally Intelligent

There’s a line in the book The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde that resonated with me from an early age. It said, ‘I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance.’

As someone who’d left school with very few qualifications and therefore did not attend university or gain any kind of degree, my (perceived) lack of cleverness was something that held me back from gaining jobs for years.

‘Project Manager required, must have degree…’

‘Senior Manager required, must have degree…’

‘Head of Project Management required, must have degree…’

I’d apply for these jobs, clearly stating the value I could add, my achievements, my values and include references from people who’d worked with me, in the hope of overcoming the cleverness hurdle. All to no avail. Most of the time, I never even heard back from these people to say it was my lack of degree (or suitability!) that prevented me from progressing further. A fact that used to annoy me greatly. ‘That’s just no way to treat another human being’ I would say to myself.

What continues to frustrate me about this approach is the fact that it’s fairly noticeable that being clever does not necessarily mean you are good with people – a quality that pretty much every job demands, especially in the field of project management.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I also understand that having no (or few) qualifications doesn’t mean that you are good with people either. I also understand that both cleverness and emotional intelligence (the essential ingredient for being good with people) are required to be truly remarkable at what we do.

It’s just that we very rarely hire for emotional intelligence first and cleverness second. It’s a similar story in the personal development world. We’re still too fixated on cleverness over emotional intelligence, sending people on courses to attain certificates, rather than equipping them with the knowledge about what they’re good at and what they’re not, in order that they can then choose to to change the way they interact with people.

Daniel Goleman said in his book, Emotional Intelligence, that ‘Academic intelligence has little to do with emotional intelligence.’ He went on to prove that, ‘At best IQ contributes about 20% to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80% to other forces.’

The statistics about the positive impact and importance of being emotionally intelligent are well documented. In one example, AT&T (the telecommunications company) gave staff emotional intelligence training and saw that participants experienced a 10% increase in productivity immediately following the training, 20% increase after six months and 25% increase in the first year.

That’s the level of difference it can provide in terms of getting things done, which also contributes to the impact on the culture of an organisation. Many studies demonstrate the positive correlation between employees high in emotional intelligence and a great company culture. Indeed the Hay & Beer Research and Innovation Group found that 90% of the competencies of 'star' leaders in Fortune 500 companies were determined to be emotionally intelligent competencies.

With the rise of automation, emotional intelligence will become increasingly important and a key differentiator for those looking to establish themselves in leadership positions. Increasingly popular methods such as design thinking and agile techniques rely heavily on interpersonal relationships, active participation and emotional design.

The best people to lead people are those that understand people. Self-awareness, empathy, motivation, variable communication and the ability to influence are vital for those who wish to progress and stay relevant in 2017 and beyond.

Being emotionally intelligent isn’t a ‘nice to have’. It’s a set of critical skills and behaviours that people must choose to change and develop. I look forward to the day when everyone is emotionally intelligent nowadays.

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