Nurture Your Company’s People. Don’t Just Figure Out How to Do Without Them

Recently, I wrote about The Great Resignation with recommendations for things smaller enterprises can do to help mitigate the migration of workers out of their businesses. At the core of these proposed initiatives was a demonstration of care – a projection on the part of the leadership of the business that those who work in it and what they have to say matter. The Great Resignation is a people issue and, as such, those with the greatest ability to connect with others, emotionally, are those who stand the greatest chance of emerging from it with the least number of losses. The trouble is, leaders like that are rare.

I was reminded of exactly how rare only hours after submitting my Great Resignation article to Inc. That afternoon, I came across the release of a recent PwC study which attempted to understand how CEOs were dealing with The Great Resignation and other employment issues related to Covid-19. The survey sought to capture the top changes CEOs expected to implement in the next 12 to 18 months based on their pandemic experience around work. The number one answer, cited by nearly half of more than 750 CEOs, was to “Reduce dependence on employee institutional knowledge.” Also in the top 5 was, “Rely more on outsourcing.” Things such as, “Improve efforts around associate engagement” or “Invest in initiatives to increase associate retention” did not even make the list! Exactly none of the responses reported in the survey were associate focused. Rather than focus on keeping good people, CEOs would prefer to create insurance policies for when they all leave. But CEOs are smart people. How is it possible that they could have missed something like this so badly? It’s simple: most CEOs are just not wired this way. If you’re one of them, it could present a huge opportunity to transform yourself and your business.

Why are CEOs like this? Before we go too much further, it’s a good time to point out that not all CEOs are. It’s possible to find CEOs who are very associate focused and who put their people first. They are simply rare birds. More common are narcissists with low emotional intelligence (EQ) who focus first on results and on feelings last. Unfortunately, many of the traits which make people successful in their rise to the top, like excessive self-confidence, also prevent them from relating well to others. A study by Chelsea Link & William Bailey at the University of Arkansas proved an inverse relationship between narcissism and emotional intelligence – defined roughly as “the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and; recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.” So, it would follow that recent research by TalentSmart found that CEOs have the lowest emotional intelligence scores in the workplace. But there’s hope. Unlike IQ which is determined at a very young age and remains relatively constant throughout our lives, EQ is something which can be improved upon over time. Step 1 is to establish a framework for understanding. Before doing that, I’d like to answer what may be, for some, an as-yet unanswered question: why even bother?

Improving Emotional Intelligence yields a myriad of positive benefits for leaders and the organizations they serve. Quite simply, EQ helps organizations create more positive interactions between human beings. By helping people better understand and control not only their own emotions, but those of others, they can better relate to, communicate with, and speak for those they lead. In organizations with high EQ, trust flourishes. People in these organizations feel safe to speak up and out and to try new things. What’s more, these associates feel cared for and like they belong. Because they do, they contribute more and are 10 times more likely to recommend their employer as a great place to work (Limeade Institute, September 2019) As if that’s not enough, a 2020 National Society of High School Scholars study found that Gen Z considers EQ more important than salary. These workers want empathetic managers who deal with, not avoid, conflict and who recognize the value when they see others not just when they look in the mirror. Now, about that framework …

There is no common model for understanding Emotional Intelligence. The term dates back to a 1990 article published in the journal Imagination, Cognition, and Personality by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer. It gained greater traction with the book Emotional Intelligence, published by Dan Goleman in 1996. Goleman introduced a basic model for understanding EQ which is still in use today and which is also used to underpin other popular Emotional Intelligence measurement tools. Since then, a number of other models and commercial testing and training programs have sprung forth, like EQ-I20, all of which share one or more common terms and concepts. All are based on the notion that Emotional Intelligence is gained through a greater degree of understanding and control of both our own emotions and those of others. I will use the Goleman model to illustrate these concepts a bit more clearly.

Goleman describes 4 Domains of Emotional Intelligence each with specific Competencies which enable that particular Domain. He postulates that EQ is achieved through what he calls Recognition and Regulation of the Self and the Social from which he derived the 4 Emotional Intelligence Domains.

The goal, as you might imagine is to improve in each of the four dimensions by working on the particular Competencies for each such as Adaptability within Self-Management and Empathy within Social Awareness. It is helpful to point out that the goal of EQ competency development is not to produce overly nice, passive or robotic leaders. Rather, leaders with high Emotional Intelligence are simply highly aware of their own and others’ emotions and are highly adept at managing both in order to arrive at successful business outcomes which they are likewise tremendously motivated to achieve. These leaders also institutionalize EQ in their organizations.

As mentioned previously, the Goleman model is but one of many available to leaders interested in improving their Emotional Intelligence. Likewise, leaders pursuing EQ knowledge may choose from a variety of self-learning options which range from grabbing a book on the topic, like Goleman’s, or enrolling in any of a number of online training courses available from major universities and many well-known training organizations. In addition, firms, like mine, that focus on organizational and leadership development, offer more comprehensive assessment and training programs for individuals or groups. Programs can range in duration from 1-2 days to multiple weeks, depending on the ultimate objective desired. Regardless of the option you select, choose, at a minimum, to do something. Even if you start with simple assessments of you and your team, you’ll at least arrive at an understanding of your current capabilities. Just being more aware of your own Emotional Intelligence will impact the way you interact with others in the future. Start small or go all in; but do something. Investing in improving the EQ of your organization will be some of the best time and money you’ll ever spend.

If nothing else, you’ll never again tell a PwC researcher that people don’t matter to you. That alone will set you apart from at least 48% of other CEOs, which in my book is a darn good start.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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