Management by Coaching
Why emotional intelligence is topping leaders’ lists of must-have skills
The awareness that emotional intelligence (EI) is an important job skill, in some cases even surpassing technical ability, has been growing in recent years. According to a recent PwC survey, 77% of CEOsnow see soft skills, like emotional intelligence, as among the most valuable and the hardest to find. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report projects that EI will be one of the top 10 job skills by 2020.
According to a study by TalentSmart, emotional intelligence … influences 58% of success across every type of job.
In today’s insurance environment, change is constant. Uncertainty levels are high. Success is built on interdependencies. Technology is reshaping jobs and affecting every aspect of the business, from marketing and customer acquisition and service to risk selection and distribution. Navigating this landscape requires insurance professionals who have the ability to adapt and who possess the people skills to mobilize and work effectively with others. Emotional intelligence encompasses a wide range of critical interpersonal skills.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify emotions (in both yourself and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to guide behavior. It’s also the way in which we master or regulate our emotions and apply them to different circumstances and tasks.
Some people believe that emotions have no place at the office. Whether we want to deal with it or not, emotions are in the workplace. It is well documented that we make decisions based on gut-level emotions and then look for facts that support our decision. Emotions influence the behavior we display to others, including our tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. Emotions influence our performance. Contrast how we perform when we’re feeling bored, frustrated, distracted, or annoyed by someone, with how we perform when we’re feeling positive, satisfied, or optimistic.
Biologically speaking, our brains are hardwired to give our emotions the upper hand. We experience situations emotionally before our reason can kick in. That is because everything we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch travels through our bodies in the form of electrical signals. Along the way they pass through our limbic system—where emotions are produced—long before they reach the place in the brain where rational, logical thinking takes place.
Emotional intelligence is the communication between our emotional and rational brain. The more developed our emotional intelligence skills, the more effective we are at controlling them and using them to our advantage.
Emotional intelligence and the bottom line
Solid evidence supports the fact that emotional intelligence is a key determinant of performance on the job. An insurance industry research study revealed that producers high in emotional intelligence generated 53% more sales than producers who were low in emotional intelligence. A multinational consulting firm found that partners who were high in emotional intelligence were responsible for $1.2 million more in profit than their partners who rated lowest in emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence plays an extremely important role at the leadership level. When Daniel Golden, the modern-day father and guru of emotional intelligence, compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership, nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence skills rather than their cognitive capabilities or technical skills. A three-year study of Amadori, a supplier of McDonald’s in Europe, assessed links between emotional intelligence and individual performance. Emotional intelligence was found to predict 47% of the variation in managers’ performance management scores.
How emotional intelligence underpins outstanding performance
A study by TalentSmart reveals that emotional intelligence plays the biggest role in performance when compared to 33 other workplace skills. They found that emotional intelligence influences 58% of success across every type of job.
Key traits play a role in how emotionally intelligent people behave. They also influence how these people engage with others and react to situations. These traits include:
- Self-awareness—Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Self-aware people know their triggers, their strengths and weaknesses, their fears and motivations. They’re conscious of how their emotions affect their thought process and behavior. Because they understand themselves, they’re better able to read and interpret others’ emotions. This is vital to effective communication, engagement, and gaining buy-in.
- Self-regulation—When people have a clear understanding of their emotions, they also know how to manage them effectively. It doesn’t mean that they don’t allow themselves to feel bad, but rather they avoid acting upon negative emotions. Instead of reacting to every feeling, they wait for the emotion to pass so they can understand how to respond reasonably. They can effectively control words and actions and make calculated moves instead of impulse decisions.
- Make more thoughtful decisions—Emotionally intelligent people have the ability to see things clearly from another person’s perspective. They can make better judgments about how their decisions will affect others. Not only does this result in better decision-making overall, but it also helps manage damage control when certain decisions lead to negative consequences. Being able to judge the outcomes of their choices lets emotionally intelligent people behave more proactively.
- Better able to handle pressure—Dealing with workplace pressures and functioning well under stress demand the ability to manage our emotions. People with higher levels of emotional intelligence are more aware of their internal thermometer and therefore are better able to manage their stress levels. They tend to have better developed coping mechanisms and healthy support systems that keep working effectively even in tough situations.
- Adaptability—People with higher emotional intelligence are more flexible and deal with change more easily.
- Empathetic—Emotionally intelligent people can accurately pick up on other people’s emotions and understand how their words and actions can affect those emotions. As a result, they take people’s emotions into consideration while choosing the right words and actions. Instead of making instant judgments, they try to understand someone else’s situation and actions. This helps them focus on a viable solution instead of a rash decision or reaction to someone’s words and actions. They know how to communicate what’s needed or handle difficult situations effectively without hurting people’s sentiments.
- Work well with others—As collaboration and teamwork become increasingly important in the workplace, people who are able to understand and get along with others are more valued than ever. Emotionally intelligent people have well developed people skills that let them build solid relationships with a wide range of individuals.
- More open to feedback—Open, timely, and honest feedback is essential to good job performance. People with highly developed emotional intelligence are less defensive and more open to feedback, especially when it involves areas of improvement. Their high level of self-regard lets them look positively at areas where they can do better, rather than taking feedback personally.
- Lead by example—Highly emotionally intelligent people don’t get easily flustered when things don’t go according to plan. And their knack for getting along with others makes it more likely that others will take note and try to emulate them. That’s why high emotional intelligence is a key to influencing people in an organization regardless of official title. An ability to rise above daily irritations earns people with high emotional intelligence respect from those above them as well as from their colleagues.
Looking through the lens of emotional intelligence when hiring, promoting, and training
As emotional intelligence skills increase in value, growing numbers of companies are incorporating EI assessments into pre-employment testing and professional development programs. If this is something you’re thinking about, a variety of assessment tools can help you get the job done. The key consideration is which tool will provide you the information and outcomes you need. Be sure to select tools that complement assessments you already may be using and that enable people to clearly interpret and apply insights in their work.
For example, if you already use a trait-based tool such as Myers-Briggs (MBTI) across the business, don’t complicate things with another trait-based tool. Consider the behavior-based Genos Emotional Intelligence Assessment to give people clear pathways to develop their self-awareness and interpersonal skills. If you’d like to know more about the kinds of assessments available, please email me at email@example.com.
Unlike IQ, which is relatively fixed around age 18 or 19, emotional intelligence can be developed at any age. It’s a flexible set of skills that can be acquired and improved with practice over a lifetime. In addition to pinpointing existing skill levels, assessments also provide a valuable tool for training and development and measuring progress over time.
Staying relevant in a changing world
The human value of some of our most prized career paths is being eroded. A recent Harvard Business Review article points out that IBM’s Watson is already cracking medical cases that stump doctors, and investors are fleeing expensive, actively managed funds for better-performing passive ones. Artificial intelligence is rapidly gaining ground in the insurance industry, making an increasing number of underwriting jobs obsolete.
Those who want to stay relevant in their professions will need to focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating—understanding, motivating, and interacting with human beings. It’s these human capabilities that will become more and more valued over the next decade.
Kimberly Paterson, CEC, and Certified Energy Leadership Coach, is president of CIM (www.cim-co.com). CIM works with organizations and individuals to maximize performance through positive lasting behavioral change. Her clients are property and casualty insurance companies, agencies, and brokers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.