In Praise of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Recently, David Brooks highlighted research on the characteristics and abilities of CEO's - noting that psychological insight and a feel for human relationships are the most important talents in a person trying to run a company.

As Brooks's article explains:

"Steven Kaplan, Mark Klebanov and Morten Sorensen recently completed a study called "Which C.E.O. Characteristica and Abilities Matter?" They relied on detailed personality assessments of 316 C.E.O.'s and measured their companies' performances. They found that strong people skills correlate loosely or not at all with being a good C.E.O. Traits like being a good listener, a good team builder, an enthusiastic colleague, a great communicator do not seem to be very important when it comes to leading successful companies. What mattered, it turned out, were execution and organizational skills. The traits that correlated most powerfully with success were attention to detail, persistence, efficiency, analytic thoroughness and the ability to work long hours."

This research seems to go against important leadership traits as defined by emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman in his recent interview by Big Think.

"Leadership is influencing, persuading, motivating, listening, communicating." Citing healthcare, Goleman noted how "it's important for leaders to be emotionally supportive so that the people who are at the frontlines, who really have to deliver and be there for patients have the emotional reserves themselves to do it and don't get burned out."

Tsedal Beyene, a professor in the Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School, also had different take on the importance of emotional intelligence skills in the workplace. In her opinion, Brooks' article "oversimplifies a very complex set of issues. We are now moving into a globally distributed work environment which requires interpersonal cross-national interpersonal adeptness. While you may need advanced organizational skills early in your career, work at the top of the house is all about the interpersonal, leadership, setting a vision, having others follow suit, and making decisions. You can hire people to execute and organize."

Execution and organizational skills are stressed in corporate leadership at HBS, but, in my personal experience as a student at HBS, it would be impossible to get through many leadership cases without taking into account how best to deal with the interpersonal issues at hand. In the work group model, which is one of the strategies taught in the leadership curriculum, people-related factors such as group culture, leadership style and group composition are stressed with equal weight as execution and organizational considerations such as task design and formal organization.

One key factor in the Kaplan Klebanov and Sorensen study, which Brooks failed to point out, is that their study only takes into account CEO candidates from LBO and VC transactions, i.e., private companies. Not only do private companies tend to be smaller than public companies - and likely require greater CEO interaction with a larger number of managers, employees and customers - but the CEO is also not beholden to the pressures of public markets and shareholders.

Should leaders and managers take Brooks to heart and leave their emotional intelligence at the door in place of execution and organizational excellence? Should boards look to hire CEO's without interpersonal skills?

There may be a few academics arguing for yes, but it's clear that is not what is being taught in the real world.

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less

Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel and deadly experiment

Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?

Flickr user Tommy Truong79
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
  • The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
  • Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
Keep reading Show less

Here's how diverse the 116th Congress is set to become

The 116th Congress is set to break records in term of diversity among its lawmakers, though those changes are coming almost entirely from Democrats.

(Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Women and nonwhite candidates made record gains in the 2018 midterms.
  • In total, almost half of the newly elected Congressional representatives are not white men.
  • Those changes come almost entirely from Democrats; Republican members-elect are all white men except for one woman.
Keep reading Show less