Though the term emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) has appeared in academic articles since the 1960s, it was Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, that popularized the concept. Since that time, it has been widely discussed as a critical element of leadership.
Compelling arguments for the development of EQ in leaders have been put forth. Much less attention has been paid to the application of EQ by all others. Followers of the leaders often discussed, as well as those engaged in interactions where there is no leader/follower relationship or authority differential, can also benefit from a basic understanding and application of EQ.
Discussions of EQ typically revolve around a leader’s awareness and sensitivity to factors that affect team members’ performance. Work-related issues, such as the availability of necessary resources and organizational support, are “low EQ” problems. That is, they become evident in most basic project reviews and usually have straightforward, practical solutions.
External factors, however, often create “high EQ” problems – those that require deeper insight to understand and address. Examples include a family member’s illness or other familial responsibilities. Civil unrest or natural disaster in a region where distant relatives live could also distract a team member from project responsibilities. Any matter that is not work-related, but consumes a team member’s energy or attention is included in this category.
These matters require empathy and compassion to resolve, minimizing the impact on the project while protecting the well-being of the team member. Left unresolved, they can cripple a project as severely as any technical issue. Issues of this nature are unlikely to be revealed to a leader that has not developed rapport with team members. This is the crux of most EQ articles.
On the flip side, however, is an equally important application of EQ: team members should also demonstrate empathy and compassion for the leader.
Project managers and other leaders are often subject to intense pressure from various sources. Cost and time pressures are exerted by executives, while various other stakeholders may have conflicting objectives. In addition, the PM may also be subject to many of the same external factors as team members, further complicating execution of the project.
It may be deemed inappropriate for a leader to share many details of these pressures with team members. In many organizations, in fact, revealing the content of management discussions is prohibited, despite its direct impact on the team. The team’s awareness of the leader’s predicament can further strengthen its rapport and improve performance.
Although the leader may not be able to openly discuss the specifics of a project’s status or reputation among executives, for example, there will often be clues to the nature of management discussions. Perceiving and interpreting these clues creates “high EQ” problems for team members. Members of a strong team will support its leader in the same way its leader supports them.
The key takeaway is that EQ is a two-way street. Each party in a relationship, regardless of its nature, should be considerate of the other; each party should also be forgiving of unintended offenses. Following these simple guidelines can help a team maintain lines of communication, support healthy team dynamics, and prevent misunderstandings and petty infractions from disintegrating a team.
[Link] “Emotional intelligence,” Wikipedia
[Link] “What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?” PsychCentral
[Link] Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman. Bantam Books, 1995.
[Link] “The Right Tact,” Kate Rockwood. PM Network, April 2018.
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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