Inevitably in change management we come around to the somewhat controversial topic of emotional intelligence.
It’s a concept that isn’t universally accepted but the components and toolkit offer us much to consider. Change is a constant but the rate of change is not, and around us right now the world is changing at an incredible rate. This supercharged change is something that is hard to process and asks a lot from people living through it. What are the skills needed to deal with it?
Last night I sat up until the early hours, first watching Match of the Day, disinterestedly, and then reading. It was late enough that I could watch the speeches of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from Wilminton, Delaware as they accepted the mantles of President and Vice-President Elect of the United States of America. Whilst various battles rage on, there was for a moment a tremendous change in tone, and an exhibition of an emotional intelligence that had been lacking for the four years of a certain incumbent. It’s a long way from the high profile world stage to the biscuit-strewn offices across the UK but the same skills and abilities can light up the work day.
What is emotional intelligence? First proposed by Peter Salovey and John D Mayer as a corollary to the widely-known intelligence quotient (IQ) scale, in 1990, it is now most closely associated with the author Daniel Goleman, who popularised it in the late 90s. He proposed five components of emotional intelligence in the working environment, and to look through these is really eye-opening. How many people have you in your own experience dealt with who lack one or more of these five basic struts of EI? And how many have had all five?
One immediate and fair criticism of this is how difficult some of these are to accurately define. One person’s ‘high’ level of social ability is not necessary the same as another person’s. The label ‘proficiency in managing relationships and building networks’ really is a very broad and vague definition. We might buy Goleman’s book to find out more but its not a spoiler to note there’s no way that such a term will ever be satisfactorily defined in precise and scientific terms. It is qualitative and contextual.
Ultimately, the ECMH (Essential Change Manager’s Handbook) gives a circular definition, too: “to a large extent emotional intelligence is exhibited in interaction with other people and thus needs input from them, perhaps from processes such as 360-degree feedback.”. Whilst the circular feedback process can shed a lot of light on how a team feels about each other and their line manager, it is almost entirely subjective until made SMART, and even then, it is contextual and temporally-bound. In an industry as tribal as publishing, 360-degree feedback is not always conducted in good faith and with due dilligence — and ends up as a punitive stick rather than nutritious carrot.
Emotional intelligence is, from my viewpoint, an essential part of the make up of a change manager and a well-run change management initiative but the definition of that emotional intelligence needs to be handled carefully and acknowledged as contextual. It might be wise to refer to Morgan’s work on Organizational Metaphors and think hard about what kind of institution the change initiative is taking place in. Another way of parsing this is to borrow from Senge, who wrote, “to understand why sustaining significant change is so elusive, we need to think less like managers and more like biologists.” Understanding the self-reinforcing growth processes and the limiting factors is its own kind of special emotional intelligence.