This question was recently posed by CEO of HRNZ Nick McKissack, and what a great question to ask! It spurred much dialogue in the social channel.
Research, from Manchester Metropolitan University and the EMLyon Business School in France has explored this very question. Can we have too much Emotional Intelligence?
Dr Sumona Mukhuty, Principal Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, states
“In the last two decades, emotional intelligence has often been identified as a key factor in effective leadership. However, our work within the NHS suggests there could be a saturation point”.
Professor Bozionelos said:
“Increases in emotional intelligence beyond a moderately high level are detrimental rather than beneficial in terms of a leader’s effectiveness. Too much emotional intelligence is associated with too much empathy, which in turn may make a manager hesitant to apply measures that he or she feels will impose excessive burden or discomfort to subordinates”.
Firstly we need to consider our understanding of emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is not just about empathy. It is a set of emotional and social skills that support us to understand and manage our own emotions and to use this understanding to relate with others.
“It is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings
and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for
managing emotions well in ourselves and in our
– Goleman, 1998
“Emotional-social intelligence is a cross-section of
interrelated emotional and social competencies,
skills and facilitators that determine how effectively
we understand and express ourselves, understand
others and relate with them, and cope with daily
– Bar-On, 2005
When we apply emotional intelligence to leadership development, we shift from managing people to influencing. In his book “Emotional Capitalists”, Martyn Newman says that emotional intelligence is:
- A range of personal and interpersonal qualities
- Being able to understand and express personal feelings
- Being able to get along with other people
- To communicate clearly and with empathy
- To respond positively and with sensitivity to new situations
He goes on to explain that we can place the most highly knowledgeable (IQ) and skilled (TQ) people in positions of leadership, but the deciding factor of whether they will be successful is multiplied by their emotional intelligence (EQ).
(IQ + TQ)EQ = HUMAN POTENTIAL
– Martyn Newman, Emotional Capitalists
So can we have too much of a good thing?
In any human dynamic work, we know that at times our strengths can become our weaknesses. When one area of strength overrides another it can become problematic.
In saying this, we can never have enough self awareness. Understanding our own emotional responses and their effect on ourselves and others is a crucial life-skill.
However, let me explain this idea of overriding strengths in the context of emotional intelligence and leadership.
A leader with high empathy and low straight-forwardness may experience an inability to set expectations and hold people accountable.
Someone with high achievement drive, at the expense of work-life blend may become a workaholic.
Someone high in Self Reliance and low Relational skills, may need to develop their collaborative skills.
A leader with high self confidence and low relational skills, may struggle to allow others to shine.
Separating one emotional intelligence skill over another is not how it works. There is dynamic interplay between Emotional Intelligence competencies that when assessed and analysed show areas of strength, development and interplay.
We need leaders who can skillfully navigate the dynamics of the people they lead in order to support everyone to bring and be their best. Future leaders need to:
- Lead with Empathy and Direction
- Be Connected with Confidence
- Be both Vulnerable and Anchored
- Use Intellect and Intuition
- Operate in Flow and Focus, and
- Be Reflective and Responsive
The emotionally intelligent leader will be able to dial-up or tone-down their response based on what is required in each relationship and situation. This is skillful work. Work that we need to develop in our leaders for this VUCA world.