The idea that emotions have no place in the workplace is a myth that has now been shattered.  The work place is full of emotions; for example anxiety, inspiration, anger, frustration, passion, and love are only a few of the plethora of emotions that are present at every moment. Not surprisingly therefore, research is now overwhelming that the most effective leaders and employees are those who are emotionally intelligent.  This means that they are able to express and manage their own emotions and are also able to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. 

In his seminal work, “Emotional Intelligence – Why it Can Matter More than IQ” Daniel Goleman found that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a strong predictor of success in the work place and in life, more generally.  This is not to say that IQ and technical skills are not important.  They are still critical but more as “threshold capabilities”. They are a minimum to get you in the door, but it is often EI that keeps you in and propels you further once you are in the door.    

Recognising that Emotional Intelligence is critical to strong employee performance in the work place, here are six (6) actions you can take to develop it in your company or organisation: 

1. Provide evidence of the link between Emotional Intelligence and the bottom line.   Not everyone may be convinced about the importance of emotional intelligence in the work place.  Management must understand and appreciate how EI affects achievement of business results.  An important starting point therefore, is to identify how behaviour associated with high EI has contributed to the bottom line and equally, how low EI behaviour may have hurt company profits.  For example, a Sales Executive with the patience and humility to manage an irate important client may save the company a huge amount of money.   Similarly, a supervisor who cannot manage his temper and bullies his direct reports may cause significant staff turnover, costing the company a large amount of money. 

2. Identify the EI competencies and behaviour relevant to your work context.  It is much easier to develop Emotional Intelligence once you have identified the specific EI competencies and behaviours you expect of staff. Examples include: Emotional awareness – Recognizing one’s emotions and their effects.  Accurate self-assessment – Knowing one’s strengths and limits.  Self-control – Managing disruptive emotions and impulses.  Empathy – Sensing others’ feelings and perspective, and taking an active interest in their concerns.  

3. Incorporate EI competencies in recruiting new staff.  Once developed, the EI competencies can be used to assess and select potential employees during recruitment.  When new employees enter the organisation with strong emotional intelligence competencies, it saves an organisation from spending significant resources to build the capacity of staff in EI. 

4. Provide effective capacity development on EI.   To ensure that all employees have the requisite emotional intelligence competencies, you will have to invest in capacity development.  In learning any new skills set, experience has shown that one-off-training events are not very effective.  A modular approach, where staff learn and then have the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned before going on to the next session tends to work better. The learning becomes even more imbedded when coaching is provided to support staff as they test out new emotionally intelligent skills and behaviour.  

5. Incorporate EI competencies in your performance management system.   When emotional intelligence behaviours such as teamwork, taking initiative and effective communication are incorporated into the performance management system, employees are assessed and given valuable feedback on these competencies. As the maxim goes: “What is measured, counts.”  Employees will make more effort to be emotionally intelligent when they know they will be assessed on it.    

6. Leadership support and modeling of emotional intelligent behaviour. Leaders play a critical role in shaping the emotional climate of a company and resultant employee performance.  Thus, one of the most crucial steps is supporting leaders and managers to model emotionally intelligent behaviour. When they provide a role model of emotionally intelligent leadership, they bring out the best in others and serve as an example for others.  Executive coaching and good quality feedback are good ways to develop emotional intelligence in leaders. 

In today’s competitive environment, companies and organisations with emotionally intelligent employees have a distinct advantage.  Investing in developing EI competencies is, thus, no longer a luxury but an organisational and business imperative.  What will you do next?

Taaka Awori, Managing Director – Busara Africa


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