Emotional intelligence - or EQ for short - has become an increasingly popular measure of effective management and leadership for over a decade now. Companies such as Deloitte, Quiksilver and ExxonMobil regularly assess - and encourage - their senior staff to further develop their - EQ as an integral part of their professional development.
But what exactly is EQ? Simply put, it is our ability to understand - and manage - ourselves and others.
Unlike earlier attempts to assess human intelligence by measuring numeracy and literacy - the earliest IQ methodologies hark back to the late 1800s - EQ, itself around since the 1920s, assesses one's ability to be personable, to manage relationships, to be confident and in control, to show support and compassion, and to keep our emotions in check. Measures which are far more important to today's business leaders, and indeed to people in general. I would go so far as to argue that EQ is the closest measure of humanity that we have.
EQ is a sign of the times in business today. Surviving and thriving leaders have it. Failing leaders don't. In patriarchal cultures of old, displaying emotion as a leader was seen as a sign of weakness. This rise in popularity of investing in, and assessing, EQ in leadership turns this old world view on its head. Progressive businesses today have EQ quotas to meet among their leadership teams. There are proven studies* that correlate high EQ in leadership and business success, with Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group, John Donahoe of eBay and Howard Schultz of Starbucks, among others, cited as examples of emotionally intelligent business leaders.
It is interesting to observe that, just as companies are investing exponentially to adopt - and adapt to - technology, including many now deploying robots where certain tasks can be automated, so too are they heightening their investment in those skills that 'personify' what it is to be human - skills such as our relationships with others, empathy, adaptability and optimism.
So why do we need to work on harder to behave more humanely in business? For a start we have to stop employees leaving the workplace, now that so many are realising that they can monetise their skills, sell and deliver services via the Web, work for themselves - from anywhere - and be happier and often better off as a result of circumnavigating 'gainful employment'. And it doesn't matter how good the package is, how much free fruit and yoga is on offer, our workplace happiness (or unhappiness) still comes down to one key factor: our boss. This relationship trumps everything else on the multiple annual surveys as to "why I quit my job".
So we have to get better at being good bosses. Are bosses today any better or worse than they were twenty or forty years ago? If I had to place a bet on this I would go for worse. The business of business is getting more complex, and our staff - humans - are more complicated beings. And many of us come with baggage that our parents' workforce generation perhaps didn't have: heightened technical skills.
Many companies today promote technically-adept staff into people management roles without properly assessing their inter- and intrapersonal skills; how they treat others and how they conduct - or manage - themselves. In the same way that some people have weak technical skills; others have weak people skills. And many companies assign non-technical managers to increasingly technically capable teams where there is little to no understanding (empathy) of what their staff do, day in day out. So it is harder for these managers to build connection, rapport and trust.
Does everyone want to be in charge of managing people, of creating harmonious teams? Negative. Is everyone good at it? Absolutely not. I have worked with many digital marketing experts who just want to be left in peace with their data sets, their algorithms, coding and ROI calculations; they are resigned to the fact that the organisation doesn't get them or indeed what they do. Hence why some leave, like islands breaking away from the mainland (and then many come back as contractors - delivering the technical skills with little to no obligation to interact; this is often perceived as a win-win to them).
So how do we get more EQ into the workplace? Assessing the EQ of your existing staff can be done through various questionnaires and diagnostic tools. And there are EQ practitioners - trainers and coaches - on hand to help develop and embed these skills into the workplace.
Similarly, positive psychologists such as Martin Seligman also advise employers to hire for optimism, and some companies like Google now reward failure - recognising that those who dare, should be encouraged because they are willing to put themselves in a position of vulnerability, take risks and embrace innovation - ultimately these employees will learn quicker and be more successful. Again, this sounds like a no-brainer.
Survival in today's business world is about adaptability - our ability to change with the fast-moving, technology-fuelled times. Successful businesses have leaders who are comfortable with change - a way of being that comes from the inside out.
Having control of our emotions, being able to influence others - and how they feel - is one of the hardest things to do as a human being. Investment and success in it should be rewarded, because success in business, and indeed in life, will be built upon it.
If you are a business leader interested in exploring and further developing your emotional intelligence in order to win the hearts and minds of those around you, sign up for Tea & Empathy, my EQ in Leadership workshop series. The next workshop is on Tuesday 27th September 2016, in central London. Click here for more information.