The Highlands Company Blog

The Heart of Leadership: Thoughts on Identifying, Recruiting, and Developing Emotional Intelligence to Enhance Organizational Effectiveness

In the introductory article, “The Heart of Leadership”, a definition of leadership was provided: Lead – a verb. Leadership – noun. Leader- a noun and adjective.

It means: 1) to go before or with to show the way; 2) to conduct by holding and guiding; 3) to influence or induce; 4) to be in control or command of; 5) to be or go at the head of; 6) to have the advantage over.

The purpose of this article is to define the foundational competencies that leaders need prior to accepting their assignment to lead – together, they are called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is needed to: 1) go before or show others the way, 2) to conduct by holding and guiding, 3) or to influence or induce.

What is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence is:

• Self-awareness
• Self-regulation
• Motivation
• Empathy
• Social Skills

I once worked with a Supervisor whose teambuilding philosophy deeply inspired and motivated me to action so, naturally, I began writing. She shared her philosophy — if anyone working with her failed, it was because she had failed them first. She felt that information should not be hoarded, but disseminated. She talked about the importance of being open to continuous learning. As I reflected on the conversation we had, it helped shape this current article.

The study and acceptance of the importance of Emotional Intelligence leadership is exploding. First, in 1997, Intrapersonal Scales such as Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory measured the following in addition to EI competencies: Interpersonal EQ (emotional quotient), Adaptability EQ, and Stress Management EQ.

Secondly, according to Goleman & Charniss, there are four major domains of Emotional Intelligence: Self-awareness, Self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Emotional Intelligence refers to the abilities to recognize and manage our emotions.

How can organizations incorporate an Emotional Intelligence approach to identifying and recruiting, and to development within their organizations?

During the recruiting process, focus should be on the candidate’s accomplishments from the perspective of how the accomplishments made a difference throughout their careers.

A few sample questions would be:

  • Talk about a time when you failed.
  • What role did you play?
  • What did you learn from your failure?
  • How has that failure made you a more effective leader?
  • Describe your up-skilling efforts to stay on top of your game.
  • Describe your conflict resolution approach/model.
  • What are your professional goals within the next 2 years?
  • Why would anyone want to be led by you?
  • Describe the process or method, and the frequency, with which you obtain
    constructive feedback from your colleagues, direct reports, and manager.

According to Peter Prichard, Sr. Consultant of the Leadership & Talent Practice for the Hay Group, “EI is the ability of individuals to understand themselves in a way that allows them to manage themselves more effectively in relationships, which therefore allows them to be much more socially aware — being in a relationship in a long-term way. There’s been significant research done over the last 20 years that supports EI in allowing people to be more effective as individuals and as leaders and we see that everyday in our work.”

Organizations should manage the development of employees as they do their financial investments – with the goal of maximizing the return on their human investment or simply- ROHI (return on human investment). So, how can organizations maximize the return on their human investment? The learning process begins with how, if, or to what degree current training processes are internalized, retained and utilized.

I once read an article that stated that the skills used to get the job done will not be the same skills that will help you to retain that job. The article was a stark reminder of the importance of up-skilling – continuous learning, continuous application, continuous growth. Newly learned information from training and development programs is useful – in that moment. However, if it goes unused, it is just information. Yet, many organizations allow the same managers/leaders to stay in position using outdated information and/or unproductive management/leadership models, and they are not accountable for up-skilling. Oftentimes, they are under the assumption that the models implemented at previous organizations will work for their current organization.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the results of a leadership study showed that star performers outperformed average leadership performers by 90%. The difference was attributed to their emotional intelligence.

In 1996, studies by the late David McClelland, a premier researcher in human and organizational behavior of the McClelland Food & Beverage Company, discovered that senior managers with extensive emotional capabilities managed business divisions who exceeded their annual financial goals by 20%. The same research revealed division leaders without extensive emotional intelligence underperformed by approximately 20%.

Research suggests that emotional intelligence is the result of both nature and nurture. So, what can organizations do to facilitate the learning and development of emotional intelligence?

According to Harvard Business Review, Emotional Intelligence is born largely in the neurotransmitters of the brain’s limbic system, which governs feelings, impulses, and drives. Research implies that the limbic system comprehends best through stimulation, repetition, and feedback. The neocortex of the brain manages analytical and technical ability and comprehends concepts and logic. Research suggests that organizational training programs need to be redesigned with a “limbic” approach. Leaders need to be motivated to change, they need practice, and constructive feedback. What might a leader’s, a manager’s, or a professional’s development plan look like?

An example of the contents of a Development plans would include:

  • Strengths
  • Challenges
  • Opportunities
  • Improvement actions
  • Outcomes as a result of implementation
  • Incorporation of both constructive horizontal and vertical feedback on their performance

Additionally, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State calls it Smart Power and when asked what some of her leadership secrets were she stated, “Be a continuous learner. One of the hallmarks of great leaders is their capacity to learn continuously throughout their lives. Continuous learning is about being curious and wanting to learn more about something – a compulsion to want to know as much or even more about a subject than others do and learning from both your successes and failures.”

Further, in 1979, Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brian, helped to make brain theory more prevalent. She developed her drawing technique through the brain theory of Dr. Richard Bergland, a Scientist and Neurosurgeon. According to Dr. Bergland in his book, The Fabric of the Mind, “You have two brains: a left and right. Modern brain scientists now know that your left brain (neocortex) is your verbal and rational brain; it thinks sequentially and reduces its thoughts to numbers, letters, and words…Your right brain (limbic) is your nonverbal and intuitive brain; it thinks in patterns, or pictures, composed of ‘whole things,’ and does not comprehend reductions, either numbers, letters, or words.” Additionally, most people have a preference for their way of thinking which is most comfortable for them, although it results in unbalanced problem-solving skills.

So, what does this mean for current and future organizations and the search for leadership excellence? It means that organizations will need to take a foundational, systematic approach to identifying, recruiting, and developing leaders. Organizations will need to take an inside-out approach to identifying those leaders to ensure that before they accept their assignment, they’ve arrived at the table with well-developed emotional intelligence.

In conclusion, “IQ and technical skills are important, but emotional intelligence is the ‘sine qua non’ of leadership.”


If you are interested in polishing your leadership traits, take the Highlands Ability Battery. Our new Leadership Report will reveal how you lead best. Learn more here.