Getting to the heart of emotional intelligence


Knowing when and how to show your feelings as a manager is not only an important skill that can be developed and put to use, it’s also a marker of leadership potential. Dr Marianne Broadbent puts emotions to the test.

Have you ever had a boss or a work colleague who just did not seem attuned to what was happening around them? Perhaps you have experienced a work colleague that just did not pick up on the ‘cues’ that others were giving, or some peers who did not understand or appreciate their impact on others.

In these situations, it is likely that the individuals concerned had a few gaps in their Emotional Intelligence (EI). While the notion of EI really started to be articulated more than 25 years, it has progressively been seen as an important factor in human performance and development potential.

We use a well-recognised EI assessment approach and tool in all of our executive and team development work and most of our executive search work*. This can provide a rich source of feedback to individuals, particularly to executives and managers, as EI is a set of attributes you can actually work on and improve.

Emotional Intelligence is a Set of Skills
Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that influence our behaviour. This includes the way we perceive and express ourselves, the way we develop and maintain social relationships, and the way we cope with challenges. It is also about how we use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. EI is seen as something of a predictor of success in life and work.

Think of its impact this way: you might know many really smart people, who appear to have high-ish IQs; but they might not be very effective or contribute as much as those whose raw intelligence is a bit lower, yet have a well-developed set of emotional and social skills. When an individual has both high-ish IQ and high EQ they are more likely to have the development potential for senior leadership. Think of executives you know who ‘get it’ with people and relationships ‑ and also hold their own intellectually. They’re probably easier to work with, and reason with, than those who do not have that combination.

It is important to understand though, what makes up the EI skill set, and how the different attributes – particularly some highs and lows –

Emotional Intelligence has Five Aspects

So what are the specific attributes that comprise EI? The MHS EQ-I Model that we draw on has five distinct aspects of emotional and social functioning. There are three attributes within each of those five aspects.

The first aspect is Self-Perception and encompasses understanding your own emotions through your self-awareness, your self-regard or confidence, and your self-actualisation, or the extent to which these focus on continuous development. Understanding and valuing yourself is usually part of the fabric of good leaders.

Self-Expression is the second aspect and includes assertiveness, independence and emotional expression. Assertiveness is about how you stand-up for yourself and independence is about how you ‘stand on your own two feet’ or the extent to which you need others to tell you what to do. A good level of initiative is critical for leaders. However, a combination of very high assertiveness and independence might make it harder for a person to be a real team player, as they might not take into account the views of others to the extent that they should.

Emotional expression is about how you present your feelings to others, and is an attribute that is harder to comprehend than others. Think of it this way: some of us have been brought up not to show our feelings or be demonstrative in any way. This can have a negative impact on how we lead others, as our appearance to others will show little variation. If we are particularly happy or rather angry, we won’t give out many clues. Having a reasonable level of emotional expression helps us to appear to be more authentic and often more influential with others, as we are able to put some emotion behind our words. But, as with most aspects of EI, an exceptionally high level of emotional expression might mean you present to others with too much by way of extremes. This is where your self-awareness comes in – to judge when, and how, to show and use your emotions effectively.

Decision Making is the fourth aspect, and includes problem solving, reality testing and impulse control. The problem solving attribute can be a bit misleading as individuals often believe they are good ‘problem solvers’. In EI terms though, it is about effectively managing your emotions when solving problems; for example, separating out the personal and professional (and also articulating to others that that is what you are doing).

Reality testing is about checking that you see things as they really are. We all know people who we might say ‘have a poor grip on reality’. That is, they might leave a meeting thinking things went well, but they were really a bit delusional about that. For those people checking that what they experienced is what others also experienced is a very useful and simple technique.

Regarding impulse control, some of us have a tendency to react to a situation more quickly than we need to. Think of the time you might have replied in haste to an email, or were too quick to assume bad intent and comment on potentially negative behaviours of others – without fully understanding their situation or the circumstances. You might know people you would describe as ‘considered’ who will think things through before reacting. They are likely to have a higher level of impulse control than some of their peers.

Stress management is the fifth aspect of Emotional Intelligence and includes flexibility, stress tolerance and optimism. Flexibility is about how effectively you adapt to change, and can also include how well you deal with ambiguity and uncertainty. Stress tolerance is about how successfully you cope with stressful situations. Optimism is about having a positive outlook and usually an important ingredient of effective

Interactions of Different EI Attributes 

One of the most useful aspects of understanding your own EI is knowing your ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ areas are and the implications for your behaviour. This is because you can modify it when and where appropriate. For example, a high level of stress tolerance with concurrent low empathy is likely to mean that you can deal personally with difficult situations, but you will not understand why others cannot do the same. If that is also matched with lower impulse control your behaviour at times might look like ‘bullying’ or at least ‘badgering’ to others. You are likely to ‘sound off’ at why others can’t deal with things the way you can.

Reviewing levels of assertiveness and empathy are important in any negotiating situation. We worked with a group of 20 very senior Project Directors. They were each leading part of a major business systems implementation (in the range of $300m+ over three years). On average, as a group they had a high level of assertiveness with low levels of empathy. They wanted to just ‘get it done’, but had to bring others along with them, including members of the executive team. Just sharing with each of them their individual EI scores and then the aggregate as a group, had a profound impact on their understanding of why they were encountering resistance. In working with their external consulting ‘integration partner’ also they wanted to ‘win’ every encounter and negotiation, rather than really understanding what their partner’s issues and pressures were.

On the other hand, where you have a combination of lower assertiveness and higher empathy, you might just ‘yield’ in any difficult negotiation. You really empathise with those with whom you are negotiating, and are not so good at standing up for yourself, your viewpoint, or your part of the organisation.

Work on Your Emotional Intelligence 

A person’s EI will change over time. It will usually improve as you get older and then stabilise. The key aspect is to understand the different elements of EI and our natural tendencies – some of which relate back to how we were raised and our life experiences.

At NGS Global (formerly EWK International) we use it to help establish the need for targeted individual and then team development, including at the highest levels of public and commercial sector leadership. The feedback and advice can be challenging, and it also provides some good indicators of those who want to enhance their own development and contribution. We have seen it lead to significant increases in personal performance and in interaction with and impact on others – all of which enhance an individual’s leadership attributes and ongoing potential.

*For further information on the Emotional Intelligence approach in which NGS Global / EWKI Partners are trained and use, see
Dr Marianne Broadbent is Managing Partner with the Leadership Consultancy of NGS Global,

(EWK International has rebranded as NGS Global)

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