What is the connection between empathy and leadership? Can an empathetic approach to our relationships at the workplace help us achieve more?
Avik Chanda and Suman Ghose draw from real-life examples and their deep industry experience, as well as research on organizational behaviour and neuroscience, to arrive at a framework of EQ suited to the Indian workplace. Emotional Intelligence. Now.
‘In the long run, EQ (emotional quotient) trumps IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Without being a source of energy for others, very little can be accomplished.’ These are the words of Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, addressing students at a Talent India summit.
Regrettably, though, such a notion runs counter to the way we usually think. Even today, many leaders and employers focus on the need for greater efficiency, operational improvements and smarter management techniques to achieve bottom-line-driven results, at the expense of the human element involved. And the repercussions on the workforce are telling: an increased sense of alienation, greater stress levels, disillusionment and demotivation, all leading to lower productivity and higher attrition rates.
Studies show that empathy—which is about understanding others’ feelings and emotions and our own impact on them—is more important to a successful business today than ever before, correlating to growth, productivity and earnings per employee. A study titled, The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Organizational Behaviour at Virginia Commonwealth University concludes that EQ is the strongest predictor of job performance. Another research by the Centre for Creative Leadership has found that the primary cause of executive derailment involves deficits in emotional competence.
Increasingly, for all of us, there is the pressure to address personal and professional imperatives concurrently, amidst ever-diminishing margins of error.
Crises at the workplace warrant speedy decisions.
You find yourself caught up in the heat of the moment and yet, no matter how high the pressures are, the expectation is for you to act swiftly and calmly, in a mature fashion, driving tensions and conflicts to amicable conclusions. This requires a deep understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as control over your emotions. It also entails a good understanding of others’ strengths, values, motivations and emotions, an ability to emotionally connect with others, build rapport with them and get things done. In short, there is a pressing need for emotional intelligence or EQ.
Being task-driven and result-oriented are seen as hallmarks of character in a strong leader; in fact, we expect such traits to be demonstrated, even if these come at the expense of compromising interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, a genuinely empathetic leader is sometimes viewed as ‘soft’ and therefore not effective. Perhaps, hardened by the intense competition we face daily at the workplace, which instills in us a kind of ‘zero-sum game’ mentality, there is even a sense of mistrust when it comes to empathy. A tendency to treat with suspicion any notion of altruism, so that when someone does us a good turn at work, there’s mistrust in accepting it at face value. Instead, we begin to ask ourselves—Why is this person going out of his way to help me? What does he stand to gain by it?
Have we as a society become so immured within the boundaries of traditional command-and-control thinking—which espouses the tenets of putting task above means and advocating a top-down, even autocratic, style of management—that we have relegated to the position of an afterthought the one element that stands at the heart of it all and without which things would come to a standstill, namely, the human dimension?
The answer is, perhaps, a conglomerate of lingering old-school ideas, hypotheses and myths, coupled with practical challenges. Which in turn leads to avoidance of any serious discussion about emotional intelligence and the fundamental role it plays in defining an organisation’s culture, the motivational level of its workforce, the level of productivity and, eventually, the performance of the organisation.
Most of us believe that we are pretty high on emotional maturity. After all, how many people typically identify raising their emotional maturity as an area of improvement in their annual goals or development plans?
And therein lies the problem—those who most need to develop it are the ones who least realise it.
Do you think you have the emotional maturity?For such people, when their colleagues and subordinates are asked to describe them, they would say things like - ‘He’s a bull in a china shop’… ‘He’s a task master’… ‘He is good to you only as long as you are of use to him’. The truth is, these kinds of traits are often pretty obvious to the people around the person exhibiting them but not to that person himself!
Say, you are entrusted with a very important assignment with a tight deadline. For starters, you hold others to the same high expectations you set for yourself. You have a clear, well thought-out plan for how to make the project successful. You discuss the plan with your team and defend the plan with rigour. As days go by and the deadline approaches, you increase the level of communication in team meetings. However, you often feel like others don’t get the point and it makes you impatient and frustrated. Your attempts to alleviate the situation and lighten the mood in team meetings backfire and you think your teammates are being oversensitive. Sounds familiar, right? If so, you may be in for a surprise. The responses above are clear signs that you need to work on your emotional intelligence!
With a growing proportion of repetitive skills getting automated, what remains are the more complex, non-repetitive jobs that tend to be multidimensional in nature. Today, it’s not just about recalling information or executing an idea according to a predefined project plan, but about analysing situations, weighing options, evaluating decisions and generating new ideas and ways of viewing things.
Imagine you’re fresh out of college, working as a programmer in the IT sector. While specific programming languages are primary skills you’re expected to possess, they’re by no means the only ones. Being part of a global delivery team, the ability to communicate, collaborate and influence becomes essential to the entire delivery process. And if project teams are located across geographies, this places additional expectations on you, including the ability to work with people with different accents and cultures, and an evolved sensitisation to varied cultural nuances.
A couple of years down the line, you may be put in charge of a small team comprising, say, three to five juniors. The skill set you are expected to have now expands substantially. Besides pure technical knowledge, several other aspects, such as the onus of people management, delivery management, risk mitigation, issue resolution and reporting now come into focus—a complex matrix of skills that need to be learned and constantly calibrated, in the light of experience.
As our job roles become more complex, the a is a greater need for a highly evolved style of human interaction and emotional maturity.
This is Part 1 of 6 article series on Empathy and EQ.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)