EQ accounts for 67% of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance in leaders…
In our new age digital world where the head rules, today we will talk about the heart.
It is quite an irony that the best and worst thing in one’s professional life can actually be the exact same event. To set the scene here, let me explain that for me, this event was being appointed the managing partner of a start-up office of a global law firm when I was in my early 30s. It was pretty much the fairy tale story of the year, at a time when the UAE was booming, and one that landed us on the cover of the most prestigious legal magazines. It should have been a case study on start-up success and growing a collaborative culture. It should have been a case study for what our CEO often referred to as vision and alignment.
As it turned out, it was, for me, the most humbling and a truly learning experience I have had, with many sleepless nights and difficult decisions to make. More than my legal skills were put to the test: it required foresight, business acumen and utter and complete resilience. Leadership is not to be underestimated. Leadership comes at a price.
The professional services sector relies on the human element for success. It’s all about people. Yet, we often try to instill processes and systems that kill creativity and fail to ignite any sense of entrepreneurship.
As the new and enthusiastic managing partner, I thought I had all the attributes that it took to make my new firm successful. As a woman, I felt I added a dimension, commonly called emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ), that would, if used wisely, give us that slight competitive edge. What I found happened in reality is that as we grew more successful, as we grew exponentially in numbers, as we tried to build a cohesive culture and as the financial crisis struck, my EI, one I thought I had an abundance of, was the most tested of all. As stress builds in a workplace, mindfulness and compassion, key components of EI, can be the first few things a leader may compromise.
What is EI?
EI is mostly defined as the capacity of individuals to recognise their own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour.
Although the term first appeared in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch, it gained popularity in the 1995 book by that title, written by the psychologist, well-known author and science journalist, Daniel Goleman. Since this time, Goleman’s theory has been much discussed and debated. I am, however, a believer. I have seen first hand how my own approach to problem solving by raising my own EI quotient, if I can call it that, led me to be a better leader.
Goleman defined EI as the array of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance. If you are attuned to your environment and can process all the emotional information coming at you (usually on WhatsApp or in some electronic digital way these days) and if you can use this wisely to make decisions to act or to refrain from acting, it’s likely that you will have better mental health, a great home life and coveted leadership skills.
Goleman indicated that EI accounted for 67 per cent of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance in leaders, and mattered twice as much as technical expertise or IQ.
So, are women really more emotionally intelligent than men? In the words of Daniel Goleman: Yes, and Yes and No.
Women make better leaders
I believe that women can make better leaders and can really have the edge, as I thought I had when I started out, by channelling the knowledge of EI and recognising its importance in the workplace.
I value my male colleagues’ thoughts and views and often ask them what they thought about the dynamics on many things, including, for example, when we walk out of an important meeting or before an associate’s performance review. As a woman, I think I am no better at empathy than my male colleagues but I can be better (most days) at managing upset people while my male colleagues are much quicker (most days) to get to the root of the problem and tackle it sans any procrastination. Both are key ingredients for a successful management strategy.
We don’t need to be aggressive and belligerent in the workplace to be noticed, valued and appreciated. If my EI is strong enough to recognise and build on the differences each person brings to the table and if I can use this to build the rights teams, make decisions and consequently run a flourishing business, my organisation will be better for it.
As I look back on my difficult and gruelling days as managing partner, Muhammad Ali’s (RIP) words come to my mind: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'”
(The writer is a partner at Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla in the UAE. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.)