EQ research identifies four top leadership styles

Emotional intelligence is twice as important as IQ and technical skills for successful leadership, psychologist and author Daniel Goleman says.

Speaking at the World Business Forum in Sydney on Thursday, Goleman noted comments his mentor made: “If you want to hire someone, don’t look at their IQ, don’t look at their personality test, don’t really look at their business expertise.

“What you want to do is look in your own company at people who hold that position now, or held it in the past, identify by whatever metric makes sense for that position the top 10 per cent… and compare the stars to people in the same position who are only average in performance. Do a systematic analysis and identify the skills or abilities or competencies you see in the stars that you don’t see in the average.”

Most world-class organisations are now using this “competence modelling”, he says, particularly for top-level executives.

In analysing 100–200 competence models in organisations, Goleman looked at how many of executives’ abilities were based on cognitive strengths, IQ and technical skills, or emotional intelligence – “how we handle ourselves and our relationships”.

He found that across all jobs, emotional intelligence was twice as important as “threshold competencies”, which are just “what you need to get the job”, but don’t reveal how a person performs once they’re in the role.

“The higher you go in an organisation the more emotional intelligence matters,” he says.

“For top-level jobs, C-suite jobs, for example, 80–90 per cent of the competencies that companies themselves identify as distinguishing stars are based on emotional intelligence, which makes sense at that point because what you’re doing is not using your technical skills or whatever you’ve learned for that position in terms of cognitive abilities. What you’re doing mostly is managing people.”

In a study of engineers, for example, their success as judged by their peers correlated “zero with IQ and enormously with emotional intelligence”. This is because of the ‘floor effect’, Goleman says.

“The floor effect is once you are in that role, everyone else is as smart as you are. So IQ drops away as a predictor of success; emotional intelligence remains,” he says.

“It’s big-picture thinking, pattern recognition, understanding how a change here in a complex system is going to ramify over there, how a decision made today will matter in five years, 10 years.”

The ability to do this allows top-level executives to identify their business strategies, and “once you have your strategy, you can only get there through your people… You have to communicate, persuade, listen, dialogue, inspire, motivate, and all of those are emotional intelligence skills”, Goleman says.

Top leadership styles

Goleman says research of 4,000 top executives and their direct reports found the four top leadership styles were:

  • the visionary leader – someone who can articulate a shared mission, that “inspires people from the heart to the heart”;
  • the coach – this doesn’t necessarily mean a mentor, but someone who has one-on-one conversations with employees “where you don’t talk about the job but you talk about the person: What do you want from life? What do you want from your career? What do you want from this job? How can I help?”;
  • the democratic leader – someone who gets consensus, which is “very important when you’re making decisions that affect the people and you’re asking them when you don’t have the information”; and
  • the affiliative leader – someone who believes having fun isn’t a waste of time, and who creates social capital.

Two other leadership styles are important, but can also have a negative impact on employees, Goleman notes.

The first is the pace-setter, who is “often a fantastic individual contributor who is promoted to leadership because they were so good individually”, but who also tends to be a perfectionist.

“Perfectionists have a very high internal standard for themselves, and they’re constantly judging themselves. So they give themselves ‘Fs’ not ‘As’ and when they become a leader they use that same lense for everyone else… and it’s very, very demoralising.”

The second is the command and control leader, who is great in an emergency, “but life is usually not an emergency”.

“These are people who demand compliance, give orders, and have a very negative impact on the [organisational] climate,” Goleman says.

Ultimately, if a leader exhibits four or more of these styles when appropriate, “they have the best business performance”, he notes.

Five steps to building EQ

Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence is “entirely learnable”, Goleman says.

The first step is to ensure leaders are motivated to do so, he notes, “because it takes a little effort, it takes a little time”.

It is then vital for leaders to have support; to find someone – a coach or a peer – who will “help you see a setback as a learning opportunity”.

Leaders should have their own leadership competencies assessed using the “zillions” of tools available in the market, Goleman says, noting 360 assessments are a good way to develop further strengths.

“You want people to fill out the assessment who know you well, whose opinions you respect, who you choose, and whose information is aggregated so they are anonymous, because that way they’ll be very candid with you and you get that invaluable information,” he says.

The fourth step is for leaders to use that information to develop a learning plan, which is “a contract with [themselves]”.

By way of example, he suggests a leader might commit to being a better listener. “You just decide you’re going to have a human moment; that every naturally occurring opportunity, I’m going to put aside my distractions and I’m going to pay full attention to the person in front of me.”

Goleman notes that while this may sound easy, it isn’t – “it feels weird”.

The last step, therefore, is to practise.

In a leader where the neurocircuitry of their poor-listening habit is extremely strong, then to change it “you have to be mindful, you have to notice ‘here’s an opportunity for a human moment. I’m going to stop what I’m doing and pay full attention'”.

“If you persist at that it will become easier and easier until you reach a ‘neuro landmark’, which is you do the new thing at the right time with the right person automatically without having to think about it. That means the circuitry for the new habit is stronger than the circuitry for the old. So practising that at every opportunity is key.”

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