Emotional Intelligence (EQ): The Golden Link in the Employee Engagement Chain


Much has been written, some of it by myself and my co-author Cary Cooper, about morale, its cousin employee engagement, and their various benefits for organizations. Raise engagement of your workforce and you raise worker productivity and customer satisfaction, improve worker health, and if you are in the business of making profits, improve those too. High morale and engagement are far from the “touchy-feely” aspects of work which some people believe them to be: they are mission-critical. Many books and magazine articles tell people how to increase engagement levels by improving the underlying culture of the organization. All this is useful and important….but one of the things which is left out of these discussions is something which I believe should be emphasized much more: emotional intelligence, or EQ. Currently a hot management topic, as it should be, EQ refers to something very different to the normal way we see intelligence, the familiar IQ test of mental ability and knowledge. EQ refers to the following:

 Self awareness, including emotions and thoughts and the way they connect, specifically:

 –How beliefs (often deeply held/and unconscious) generate thoughts

–How thought induces emotion

–How to identify, observe and control thoughts

–How to identify and observe emotions in oneself and others

–Learning about the origin of beliefs, thoughts and feelings, often from past experiences which no longer exist in present circumstances; separating that “past” from the “present”

–Understanding the role of ego in one’s personality, how it develops, how it “infects” the individual like a virus and how it can be controlled and minimized.

–Learning to own one’s thoughts and emotions, and understand they are not anyone else’s responsibility or “fault”

In turn, people who have or develop higher EQ tend to be higher in self motivation, empathy with others and what we might call social skills.

EQ is a powerful concept because it is a much better predictor of performance on a job, whether it is as an individual contributor or as a manager. In fact a Harvard study of IQ (entrance exams) showed either a negative or zero correlation between later success in various fields (business, law, medicine and teaching) and that IQ. We all know people who weren’t the brightest bulb in the lighting section but went on to do amazing things in life! They had certain qualities which were not being measured by all the tests they did at school and which turned out to be THE driving force in their success. Most likely a significant part of this was emotional intelligence. Of course this does not mean that high EQ people cannot have a high IQ too but there is basically no relationship between the two.

If we look at the list of defining attributes above, it is obvious that these are valuable skills to have when in an organization, or in life in general. In the organization, these skills relate to employee engagement, which is an emotion-based choice which people make when they find the work environment to their liking. Becoming aware of one’s emotions, their origin in beliefs and thoughts and often the experiences of the past, gives one a step up on the engagement ladder. Lets look at this on three different levels of the organization:

–At the top of the organization, low EQ among C-level executives will mean a much greater likelihood that a psychological work environment (“culture”) will be created which is not favorable to engagement. Higher EQ individuals are sensitive to people issues because they are in touch with themselves at a deeper level and will not make the mistake of creating, for example, a “dog eat dog” work environment which will destroy morale and engagement as surely as the sun will rise in the east. Higher EQ executives will be happier inside and want to be happy at work and spread that around. Part of their journey to a higher level of EQ will involve knowing that their ego (and that of anyone they hire and/or promote to a high level) has to be kept firmly under control! They will understand that uncontrolled ego is a devastating psychological “virus” which can infect an individual and the organizations with which they are involved.  This is especially true at the top of the organization:  an ego-driven salesperson is one thing, not good at all for customer relations, for sure.  But an ego-driven CEO has a vastly greater sphere of influence and can do much more damage, including hiring others at senior levels who are equally afflicted with this “virus” (usually referring to them as a “good fit”).

 –At the mid level of managers, (assuming that the organization has not yet flattened itself out so much that they have made such an animal extinct…) higher EQ translates simply into better management skills, into a much stronger likelihood that engagement can flourish in their area. Hiring or promoting someone into a management position is a key decision: simply putting the best accountant into the job of accounting manager is a mistake which so many organizations make. Putting the highest EQ accountant into the job is the smart way to go.

–At the individual worker level, higher EQ means that Mary does not make each and every boss into a “bad father” or “bad mother” who has to be fought against on a daily basis. As part of her journey into self knowledge, Mary has chosen to grow up, learn about her past and separate from it. John does not steal ideas from fellow workers so that only he can shine….he knows how to cooperate with others so that the whole team can win.

 EQ therefore works at every level, to increase the probability of a work culture which is what I like to call “engagement friendly” and of individuals capable of choosing to engage in that environment. The latter is so important because even in what others might consider a “perfect” work environment, there will be people who do not engage: often these will be low EQ individuals. EQ is an essential building block to high engagement and is too often ignored as such. I plan to focus more on it in these pages.

Next up: can EQ be raised?


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