The myriad challenges facing Malta’s CEOs as we move beyond COVID-19 will make Emotional Intelligence (EQ) more important than ever. This is not hyperbole. Things have changed, by how much remains to be seen, but we will certainly be confronted with an altered landscape in the world of work.

Undoubtedly, once we clear the pandemic, some things will return to ‘normal’, but attitudes to work were already changing in recent years, and the pandemic has served to accelerate those changes. Whatever the future holds, an ability to engage with others, to listen, share, bond, and empathise will move to the forefront as drivers of management effectiveness. It is emotional intelligence that will help us to reassure our investors, reconnect with our employees and win back our customers.

Most of the CEOs I know are very smart people who usually score high on the IQ scale, but some lack the same strengths when it comes to EQ. This may leave them exposed in the years ahead.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Even today, there remains confusion as to what is meant by EQ. For me, Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who was one of the first to highlight the concept, described it best when he categorised EQ as compromising five elements:

  1. Emotional self-awareness or being aware of what you are feeling moment to moment, as well as seeking to understand the impact this has on others.
  2. Self-regulation or attempting to control or redirect your emotions and learning to anticipate the consequences before you act on impulse.
  3. Motivation or utilising emotional factors to overcome and persevere.
  4. Empathy or learning how to tune in and sense the emotions of others.
  5. Social skills or learning how to effectively manage relationships and inspire others.[i]

There has been a tendency in the past to downplay the importance of EQ for senior executives and it is still filed in the ‘pink and fluffy’ category by some. But research tells us otherwise, and as Goleman himself explained about his findings: “What I found is that for jobs at every level, emotional intelligence is about twice as important as cognitive ability. The higher you go in the organisation the more it matters. For top-level C-suite jobs, 80 per cent to 90 per cent of the abilities that distinguish high performers, as identified by the company itself, is based on emotional intelligence.”[ii] So any CEO who underestimates the direct relevance of EQ today does so at their peril.

EQ is undoubtedly a complex area, so I will not attempt to explore all five elements in one article. My focus here will be limited to self-awareness, for I believe it is the foundation stone to building EQ. Without a deep understanding of self, it simply is not possible to be emotionally intelligent. When you possess high levels of self-awareness, this means that you can better identify what you are good at in terms of human relations, but also where your areas for improvement lie. As a result of that understanding of self, you are then more likely to try to minimise the impact of your weaknesses and indeed work to eradicate them over time.

You might imagine that as evolved human beings our self-awareness would naturally be high, but this is far from reality. In an influential article in Harvard Business Review, Peter Drucker once wrote: “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. More often, people know what they are not good at – and even then, more people are wrong than right. And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all.[iii]

A framework for building self-awareness

Elephants are self-aware. At least, they are, based upon the findings of research conducted some years ago at Bronx Zoo with Asian elephants. According to the study, reported in LiveScience[iv], the researchers using specially designed mirrors proved that elephants can indeed recognise their own reflections, something until then it was believed that only humans, apes, and to some extent dolphins could do.

One of the results that surprised the researchers was just how quickly the elephants came to terms with their own image and began interacting with the mirror. They did not appear to mistake their reflections for strangers and try to greet them, as the researchers had suspected they might do. It is believed that this self-awareness contributes to the social complexity seen in elephant herds and could be linked to the empathy and concern for others in the group that they have been known to display. Even now, the researchers believe we know but a fraction about their true capacity for self-awareness.

You would really wonder about some humans though when it comes to their levels of self-awareness. Anyone who has ever watched a Reality TV show will know just how unaware some people are about who they are, and more importantly how they act. The behaviour of certain participants on these shows – even allowing for the editing for effect – is just beyond belief. And in the workplace, one or two individuals can take lack of self-awareness to new heights as this video of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer shows (Steve Ballmar Going Crazy ). I mean, seriously!

Many moons ago I was introduced to a framework that I still find extremely valuable in terms of building self-awareness. You will probably be familiar with it too and it is called the Johari Window. The model was developed by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955 whilst they were researching group dynamics at the University of California, Los Angeles[v].

It has since become a widely respected and applied framework in a variety of scenarios, from supporting self-analysis to exploring human interactions, as well as being a helpful tool for understanding the impact of communication on relationships. The Johari Window can also make sense of just how different top performers really are when it comes to their levels of self-awareness. And by correlation, their capacity for high emotional intelligence.

The Johari Window, shown below, consists of four panes or quadrants based on the interaction of what is known/unknown to self and what is known/unknown to others. When you think about it, there are aspects of your personality that you are open about and other elements that you tend to keep to yourself; at the same time, there are things that others see in you that you may not be aware of. The resulting matrix can help to contextualise self-awareness.

Figure 1 – The Johari Window

The four panes denote

  • The Public Area, sometimes called the arena, or open area. This relates to information/feelings/behaviour about yourself that you are fully aware of, and that others also know about you. You are comfortable with the fact that others are aware of these things.
  • The Blind Spot comprises information/feelings/behaviour about yourself that others are aware of, but about which you are unaware.
  • The Hidden Area comprises information/feelings/behaviour that you know about yourself, but which you keep from others for various reasons.
  • The Unknown Area comprises information/feelings/behaviour which both you and others are unaware of. This is the most complex area and might at one level include unknown talents or abilities, but it could also entail repressed or subconscious issues.

One of the important underlying assumptions associated with the Johari Window is that, as the Public Area between you and another person(s) becomes proportionately larger, the potential for positive and valuable relationships increases. Also, since the model is dynamic in nature, the panes within your window may change in size because of expansion or contraction of knowledge between you and others.

In particular, the Public Area may be enlarged in one of two ways: when you open up to others, in an appropriate manner of course, about personal information that was previously unknown to them about you, this has the effect of reducing the Hidden Area. Alternatively, when you take the initiative to learn more about how others view you (i.e., search for feedback) this has the effect of reducing what was unknown to you, thereby decreasing your Blind Spot.

When you do make concerted and regular efforts to actively gather constructive feedback, and if you are also comfortable with disclosing information about yourself to others, then the combination of those facts would mean that your Johari Window might shift to look something like that shown below.

Figure 2 – Increasing your Public Area

The combined effect of your openness to feedback and willingness to disclose to others reduces both your Blind Spot and Hidden Area; you therefore have a larger Public Area. This in turn leads to you having high self-awareness, which means that you are not unconsciously behaving in ways which have a negative impact on others. Over time, you build up a very clear picture of where your strengths and areas for improvement lie and, as emphasised, you do something with that knowledge. People who have a large Public Area tend to have high EQ.

Alternatively, if you are less interested in, or comfortable with, feedback, or if you do not have the same capacity to be open with others, then your Johari Window might look something like that shown below:

Figure 3 – Reducing your Public Area

The consequences of having a small Public Area are twofold. First, your larger Blind Spot would mean that you lack self-awareness and simply do not recognise your failings, so your capacity for building emotional intelligence is limited; and, as a result, you would likely continue to do the same things that cause you relationship problems. In other words, you keep blindly stumbling over the same interpersonal obstacles time and time again because you do not learn from your mistakes. In addition, your larger Hidden Area, which results from an inability to really share and relate with others, would also mean that the relationships you forge were shallower and by nature less beneficial. You cannot have high EQ with this configuration of the Johari Window.

The Johari Window is clearly more in-depth than summarised here, but this suffices for our purpose. The challenge for CEOs that I have discussed the Johari Window with is not that they fail to recognise its importance, or to understand how it works; that part is easily understood. Instead, the difficulty arises for some CEOs in that they have allowed themselves – intentionally or otherwise – to become isolated from their senior team in the sense that they do not feel comfortable ‘opening up’ to them, nor do they actively encourage feedback from their top managers.

This is perhaps understandable in some respects, but it means that for these CEOs, they essentially stop learning about themselves – and thereby improving – once they step onto the top rung of the ladder. As a result, they increase the risk of hitting a wall late in their career as they stand still but the world around them changes. This is one reason why every CEO should have a personal mentor to help them continuously build their self-awareness and EQ.  

As a takeaway from this article, reflect upon the following considerations:

Personal considerations

  • Where do your own strengths lie in terms of IQ and EQ?
  • As a building block of EQ, how would you rate your current levels of self-awareness?
  • When was the last time you actively sought feedback on your performance as CEO? When did you last open up to others about yourself?
  • Can you think of a recent example where you learned something negative about yourself through feedback and then took steps to improve as a result?
  • If you currently lack EQ, how is that impacting you personally?

Organisational considerations

Linked to the last question above, if you personally lack EQ, how are you compensating for that fact in how you hire and promote senior managers in your organisation?

It is a well-known phenomenon that we seek out like-minded people who confirm our beliefs, so without taking proactive steps, if you lack EQ, you run the risk of building a senior team around you that collectively lacks this vital attribute. This is precisely what happened to the CEO of a transport company that I mentored some years back. He completely lacked EQ and was aggressive by nature (and almost proud of that fact) and no amount of persuasion from me could get him to change his ways. Over time, he built a management team of ‘tough guys’ (yes, all male) who simply could not relate to each other, or employees, in anything other than domineering and directive ways. Attending weekly management meetings was like jumping into a bear pit, but given their collective personalities, they all enjoyed these constant battles. Their employees did not. Over time, the environment soured to such an extent that two strikes in nine months led to the CEO being moved on.

  • How do you currently measure EQ levels amongst your management team?
  • How is EQ factored into recruitment decisions for new managers joining?
  • Does EQ feature prominently in the management development training you offer?
  • When appraising management effectiveness, how is EQ built into those assessments?
  • How are your management rewards structured – does the ability to lead and engage employees with emotional intelligence form part of those reward schemes?
  • What do your employees think about your collective management styles? Are there questions asked in your engagement surveys that can help measure the levels of EQ seen in managers as determined by employees?
  • When a manager has high IQ but very low EQ, how do you currently manage that situation?

I will close the article with a quote from Abraham Lincoln:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

I like this quote, an extract from an address given to Congress by Lincoln in 1862. Although the context was very different, I think his words could just as easily be applied to the world of work today – and specifically to the leadership role. It is not an exaggeration to say that we must review and improve all aspects of how we manage our people and interact with our customers and stakeholders. As CEO, you need to lead that change and doing so will require high levels of EQ.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this article and to continue the conversation, so please feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]


Reflections from business leaders

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Photo-Joe-Tanti-Business-Profile-BA-37--1200x799.jpg
Joe Tanti, CEO and Business Mentor
With over 30 years management experience across multiple sectors, Joe is a strong believer that business is all about people. He takes great pride in helping others develop and grow. In his words – ‘When we grow others, we grow ourselves!”’
‘As business leaders, we know that a certain degree of technical and strategic competence is needed to lead in today’s highly competitive environment. However, what differentiates effective leaders is the mastering of emotional intelligence.

‘As Enda highlights very well in his article, there is a clear link between a company’s success and the emotional intelligence of its leaders.

‘Effective leaders engage with their people and empower them, build commitment, forge good relationships and increase work satisfaction. This will boost team performance and drive business success.

‘There are stories to tell on this subject. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned. The process is not easy – but that’s where coaching and mentoring come in.’
Chris Busuttil Delbridge
Christopher Busuttil, CEO at Evolve
A passionate entrepreneur, curious scientist and creative leader as well as a proven businessman. Chris’s hallmark is the high energy and enthusiasm he brings to all his endeavours.
‘Dancing and chess have one thing in common… no matter how meticulously you plan your next step, it very much depends on your partner’s move. Just like human relations. Feeling and interpreting and formulating an adequate response to that move is all the emotional intelligence you will ever need.

‘We have moved from reactive to proactive to predictive models of interaction… but even AI cannot predict all possible human creativity, moods etc… And that is why in a time of virtual meetings, so much can be lost in translation.

‘There is hope, however. The senses we possess are there for everyone… we just need to learn how to isolate the noise and trust them. Our senses can also compensate for one another just like the sense of touch in blind people. And what better way to learn than by looking at yourself in a mirror? That mirror can be our closest and most trusted collaborator but it can also be a complete stranger if we are not brave enough to face it. The more mirrors, the more opportunities to learn and see ourselves from different angles in different circumstances.

‘I have cried in front of my employees, I have been known to jump for joy at the winning of a significant order, I have invited constructive feedback, apologised publicly for my mistakes and invested a risky amount of time and money in ‘non-standard’ training for all staff such as Positive Psychology and Mindfulness practices at the workplace. These are practical ways of how I have purposely made myself vulnerable… being true to myself. I have colleagues who used to insist on bringing only their professional persona to the office. Thankfully once ‘set free’, they received loads of feedback and flourished.

‘At the end of it all, if I have learnt one thing, it’s that I know nothing – forever the perpetual student at the University of Life.’

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