When management meets emotional intelligence

Jun 05 2015 by Sandrine Frémeaux Print This Article

The notion of emotional intelligence started to emerge at the end of the 1960s and with it the realisation that successful management requires more than just analytical intelligence. Instead, those in positions of responsibility also need to be able to recognise and manage their own emotions as well as those of their employees.

So the manager became a kind of 'regulator' of feelings, discouraging negativity and encouraging the public display of positive emotions in the hope that this would create a better work atmosphere within teams and boost performance.

In reality, though, things aren't that simple. One of the dangers of displaying positive emotion is that it can often appear forced or artificial, and the managers who encourage these displays shallow and inauthentic. Trying to discourage negative emotions is equally dangerous because it can lead to people suppressing their real feelings, resulting in resentment and suspicion.

Another inherent problem with this simplistic approach to emotional intelligence is that it risks putting too much emphasis on a business leader’s personal qualities (empathy, conscience, etc) at the expense of their organisational and day-to-day managerial abilities. The danger then becomes one of escalation - leaders trying to give the impression of being emotionally intelligent by adopting the most emotionally intense stance possible in the hope that their feelings will spread throughout the firm and make a difference.

The risk is that by over-emphasising emotion we neglect intelligence, the very attribute that helps managers to make measured choices that favour positive emotions. The right choices do not come solely from being in touch with one’s feelings, but also from an “anthropological” approach to understanding basic human needs.

Such an approach shows that humans have a deep desire to interact with others and a strong need to believe that their work represents an existential act of giving. This can add meaning to their lives because, as is well known, disinterested and generous acts produce positive emotions. In other words work doesn’t just meet our economic and social needs, it’s an activity through which we can enter into the emotional dynamics of giving.

As a result, the fine balance an emotionally intelligent leader has to strike is to take into account basic human needs without being tempted to institutionalise them. There is no doubt that a manager cannot impose or solicit giving. To do so would deny spontaneity and to replace it with a calculated action - an inherent contradiction.

But that isn’t to say that an intelligent emotional leader shouldn’t respect and encourage employees’ basic need to make their work an act of giving. By welcoming and applauding whenever possible the richness of giving within a firm, managers can help employees to regard their work as a gift. For instance, cross-department initiatives, mentoring, voluntary exchange of information and expertise between colleagues can be encouraged.

But, above all, the most important element in this is the example set by a manager’s own actions. Stirring speeches will never be enough if managements' decisions and day-to-day behaviour don’t support the notion of work performed as a gift.

Business leaders can also make sure that recruitment and career development policy take into account the evolution of not just technical skills but also of how well the professional activity is managed. They can praise individual work while also drawing attention to collective projects. They can provide human and material resources and be flexible in terms of decision-making in order to meet the end-users' needs . Finally, they must integrate some space for discussion in the workplace so that healthy and positive exchanges replace emotionally negative and slow-moving conflict resolution.

By their acts and declarations, emotionally intelligent managers can thereby create an environment where work is seen as an act of giving.

Furthermore, another concept has now emerged to complement emotional intelligence: spiritual intelligence. This form of intelligence gives us the capacity and the force to reach what our deepest values and motivations are. However, it is also a form of moral intelligence that allows us to better understand what human beings require in order to develop their humanity.

This type of intelligence allows us to give meaning to our work and to help our colleagues do the same. An emotionally and spiritually intelligent manager knows that when work as a gift is understood, appreciated and valued, individuals can commit to the firm and face the future more comfortably.

The end result is a positive environment both at an emotional and spiritual level, built on the basis of confidence, goodwill and working together, where well-being and performance are considerably improved.

About The Author

Sandrine Frémeaux
Sandrine Frémeaux

Sandrine Frémeaux is Professor of Management, Organisation and Law at Audencia Nantes School of Management, France.