Will Your Next Executive Hire be Emotionally Intelligent?
How You Can Tell & Why You Should Care
It’s common wisdom that profit drives business, that productivity grows profit, and that profit is the difference between success and failure. This is a simple equation but one that is also filled with variables. Exactly what leads to productivity and precisely how does a business succeed? The answers range from sound strategy development and expert tactical execution to efficient operations and competitive solutions. However, one thing all of them have in common is that they are the result of employee effort across the business, that the quality of this effort depends on the degree of employee commitment, and that in turn this commitment is influenced by motivational leadership. Hence, the reason that, alongside business acumen, emotional intelligence (EI) is increasingly recognized as a cornerstone of effective management.
The Rise of EI, the Information Age & Knowledge Workers
EI was first introduced in the early 1990s by psychology professors Peter Salovey of Yale and John D. Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and later expanded upon and mainstreamed by Drs. Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis in their New York Times best sellers Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership. Its rise has been concurrent with the arrival of the Information Age and the Knowledge Economy, which have quickened innovation and obsolescence rates, accelerated and shortened product life cycles, caused communications channels to proliferate, and disrupted entire industries, as in the case of e-Commerce’s incursion into traditional Retail.
These developments have led to heightened competition and ever-more complex business systems and have also sharply increased the demand for Knowledge Workers capable of meeting the challenges they pose and exploiting the opportunities they present. Indeed, for some companies, recruiting and retaining such workers has become a matter of organizational viability and of competitive advantage. Accordingly, work environments, compensation, benefits, and perks have begun to evolve to meet the expectations of these in-demand employees, many of whom are college-educated Gen-Xers, Millennials, and members of the Me Generation who want their contributions recognized and achievements respected. As their values have begun to permeate organizational cultures, workplaces are becoming settings where people’s feelings and perceptions truly do matter, and, as one might expect, preferred management styles are changing accordingly.
A Tool for Organizational Achievement or a Measure of Individual Competence?
Traditionally, technical competence or expertise has been seen as an essential attribute of the individual contributor and a “highly desired” characteristic of the senior manager, whereas EI has frequently been considered only a “nice to have” — if, in fact, even sought after. However, as the labor market tightens, and as economic and societal forces transform workforce preferences, such assumptions are being tested, if not outright rejected. Companies have begun asking themselves difficult questions. For example, what value does a technically astute but EI-deficient Product Development engineer who alienates colleagues and patronizes customers truly add? Or, more bluntly, when does the cost of employee resignations and customer defections caused by such an individual begin to exceed the worth of whatever else he or she might have to offer?
Such considerations are even more cogent — and the ante higher — when the person with impaired EI is a manager, since managers’ achievements often depend on work that is done by subordinates whom managers’ must ensure perform to the maximal benefit of the company. Moreover, the higher up a managerial position, the steeper the table stakes of a leader’s motivational impact. Indeed, EI-deficient leadership is considered to be among the more common reasons that organizations fail to achieve their visions or completely fulfill their missions.
Finally, EI’s significance extends beyond a company’s current labor pool to its potential new hires, since low EI is frequently cited as a significant component in new-hire failure among both individual contributors and managers. Indeed, some sources indicate that deficient EI is the reason 23% of new hires fail during their first 18 months on the job, making it the most common reason for new-hire failure after “general lack of coachability” at 26%.
Emotional Intelligence — What It Is & Why It’s Important
In his classic Harvard Business Review article “What Makes a Leader,” Daniel Goleman states that the most effective leaders all have a high degree of emotional intelligence. He further asserts that, although IQ and technical skills are important, research indicates that these are simply entry-level requirements for executive positions and that without EI “a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but . . . still won’t make a great leader.”
Goleman’s definition of EI, which is among the most widely accepted, maintains that it allows individuals to recognize, relate to, and learn from their own and others’ mental states through the following five components:
- Self-Awareness — The ability to accurately recognize one’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as one’s emotions and what drives them, which is important in terms of understanding how one negatively or positively contributes to a situation and confronting problems and more efficiently solving them.
- Self-Regulation — The capacity to reflect on and to react rationally to situations rather than to jump into action based entirely on one’s emotions. This helps prevent inappropriate responses and over-reaction.
- Motivation — A deep understanding of ones’ motivation and its sources. In other words, not just being aware that one wants to succeed but knowing why, e.g., why do you strive for perfection even if good would be sufficient and a better return on investment?
- Empathy — An awareness of others’ feelings and the ability to take them into account in interactions. This includes the skills to see other people’s perspectives and learn from them without necessarily agreeing with or endorsing them.
- Social Skills — The ability to relate and to find common ground with a wide range of people, enabling you to build networks and alliances inside and outside your organization.
Individuals with the above qualities and behaviors are considered to have high EI. They are seen as positive, motivational leaders who can — through an in-depth comprehension of social dynamics, insightful guidance, and exemplary behavior — inspire people in their organizations to achieve their objectives.
Tell Me a Riddle — Asking EI Interview Questions
The most common and trusted means of appraising a candidate’s EI is through EI-oriented behavioral interview questions. These are much like their better-known counterparts, behavioral competency questions, except that they are designed to provide insight into a candidate’s emotional makeup and social aptitude, ideally as these relate to work environments in general and to your company’s culture in particular. Although such questions are far too numerous to list here in their entirety, a few examples follow, along with an indication of the traits they are intended to evaluate.
- “What is one of your weaknesses? How do you overcome that weakness?” (Self-Awareness)
- “What are one or two things that make you angry or frustrated at work? What do you do when you get angry or frustrated at work?” (Self-Regulation)
- “What motivates you to do your work? Why do you think this is so important to you? Do you always feel this way or does your motivation vary?” (Motivation)
- “Have you ever noticed that someone at work was having a bad day? How did you know? What did you do?” (Empathy)
- “Why is it important to develop a rapport with your colleagues? How do you build a rapport with your colleagues? How do your colleagues benefit from working with you?” (Social Skills)
And I’ll Tell You a Rhyme — Decoding EI Answers
As crucial as it is to ask candidates the correct EI questions, it is critical to accurately evaluate their responses. This might seem simple (i.e., presumably candidates with sufficient EI will admit to weaknesses and explain how they compensate for them, will own up to frustrations and describe how they deal with them, etc.) but in fact it takes skill and experience to interpret the meaning of a candidate’s answers and to understand the potential implications for his or her workplace behavior. The way in which EI-oriented questions are posed is also important, since an interviewer’s manner can prejudice a candidate’s answers, or, coupled with the personal nature of the questions, might alienate a candidate. This is a cause for special concern with C-level and other senior executive candidates.
Although these days, it’s probably safe to assume that many Human Resources (HR) professionals are aware of EI-interview techniques, practice makes perfect, and, unless your HR function includes dedicated talent-acquisition staff, it’s unlikely that interviews are being conducted daily, since HR has many other pressing duties. “Lack of practice” is particularly relevant in regard to executive searches, since the average company doesn’t conduct very many and also because their importance typically requires the involvement of the senior HR executives, whose daily responsibilities involve (and whose time is likely far better spent on) regulatory and governance issues rather than interviewing.
What’s the Solution?
One way that medium- to small-sized companies ensure that external candidates for executive and senior management positions have the requisite level of EI is by having their HR personnel trained or, ideally, certified in EI evaluation methodologies. Another way is to obtain assessment services from a dedicated EI consulting firm. Yet another—and perhaps the most effective way — is to retain an executive search firm with an established competency in EI evaluation. Such a firm will be well-versed in EI assessment techniques and well-practiced in their application and might also have access to potential candidates with known high EI aptitude.
At first glance, this option might seem more expensive than the use of internal resources but when one considers the cost of diverting these from other essential functions, as well as the in-depth talent-acquisition knowledge, and accelerated search process that a respected search firm brings to the table, the final result is likely to be added value. And, in the last analysis, what solution could be more intelligent than that?
For comments or for more information, please contact:
Customer and prospect contact: Ronald S. Torch, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President, Torch Group, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.torchgroup.com, 440.519.1822 x101.
Media contact: Ronald-Stéphane Gilbért, Global Managing Director, Gilbért, Flossmann & Zhang Worldwide, email@example.com, www.globalmarcomm.com, 216.816.4947.
- Posted by Stuart Glassman
- On April 26, 2018
- 0 Comments