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Emotional Intelligence --A New Frontier in Organisational Capacity Development

Use of the behavioral science term “emotional intelligence” has become pervasive within development circles, particularly in the recruitment of managers and CEOs to manage people and systems within organisations. It is now crucial for organisations with diverse cultures, nationalities, and personalities, to require emotional savviness from their managers, unit heads and supervisors in the management of crises, employee comportment, as well as their own responses to situations at the workplace. My extensive interactions and observations as an organisational development practitioner, suggest that organisations can radically improve their human capital development when they require, prioritize and consciously internalise values of emotional intelligence as critical for managerial excellence.

The term “Emotional Intelligence” was coined by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer, and later popularized by Dan Goleman in his 1996 book titled Emotional Intelligence. Goleman defines EI, sometimes termed Emotional Quotient (EQ) as the ability to:

-Recognize, understand and manage our own emotion

-Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others

In practical terms, this means being aware of how our emotions drive our behavior and impact those around us, as well as being able to manage our own emotions and that of others for positive impact in all situations - especially when we are under pressure. Our ability to manage our emotions and responses is an aspect of brain science which considers how one responds to perceived threat by way of “flight” or “fight.”  Although people say, “I was so upset I could not think straight,” it is within our sphere of control, as rational beings, to feel or respond appropriately to any stimuli when we allow ourselves time to reflect more. 

This emotional character discipline does not come easily. One needs to work at it. It is therefore important for us to learn how to manage our emotions. As Daniel Goleman wrote in HBR in 1998, “Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” In his article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), Why Young Bankers, Lawyers, and Consultants Need Emotional Intelligence? James Runde underscored that “self-awareness/adaptability, collegiality/collaboration and empathy” are areas that emotional intelligence can be exercised.

WACSI, as a capacity development institute, recognises the phenomenal impact of the values of emotional intelligence in managing teams, giving feedback, nurturing talents, and leading managers within the civil society sector in West Africa. The Institute acknowledges that while technical skill is necessary, emotional intelligence is even more crucial for both managers and employees to exhibit during crises management. A well composed or emotionally stable manager can motivate teams towards achieving milestones and organizational development goals.In the capacity development playbook of global organisations, heads of organisations are making impacts and increasing their margins by investing in emotionally intelligent managers who exhibit the following skills in their work.

Inspire and not instruct: Part of exercising emotional intelligence is a manager’s ability to inspire confidence in his or her team without having to instruct or scream at them to get the work done. Managers can use EI to persuade people to naturally support any initiative or project by making them feel they own or have a stake in the initiatives or projects. Managers are advised to obtain the buy-in or inputs of their team members into any project they want to accomplish. Managers cannot inspire people to follow their lack of commitment. To inspire people to support the project in a department, a manager needs to commit to the project himself/herself. The teammates always see right through the manager. They see how late a manager show up at work, and will respond accordingly. Non-commitment and commitment alike are contagious when managing teams.

Don’t take things Personal: Managers who are emotionally entangled with situations at the workplaces are not able to objectively deal with the problems in their departments. This is simply because emotional people are irrational people. Emotional character mastery is difficult for a lot of people, including some directors who manage people, systems and organizations. Often the disappointment, betrayal and crises at workplaces have their own ways of getting under the skins of people who are directly or indirectly in positions of authority, or wear the accountability hat. The ability to be objective in such unruly situations can be undermined by the hurt and anger from other people’s indiscretion or indifference, if not appropriately managed and reinforced.

Accept Responsibility on behalf of the team: There are two groups of people when it comes to identifying the cause of situations or problems, depending on their perceived locus of control. A person’s perceived locus of control determines whether they attribute the cause of problems to factors and people outside themselves, or to factors within themselves and thus within their control. People who feel their current successes or failures are because of their own hard work, determination and efforts show attributes of an internal locus of control. Those who attribute successes and failures to external factors show attributes of an external locus of control.

For instance, a resource mobilisation officer who fails to win a grant may either blame bias in the selection process (external locus of control), or recognize his inability to write a compelling proposal (internal locus of control). Once a person can identify his/her locus of control, he or she is likely to make the necessary adjustments where the locus is internal, or ensure balance in critically apportioning blame where external. Managers who are internally inclined would want to accept responsibility for their department’s poor performance and take steps to rectify them. Alternatively, those who are externally inclined will seek to blame other people or events and not take any steps to correct bad situations from recurring. It is vital that managers balance their locus of control and make objective analysis of situations.

Exhibit crises/situation management skills: Situations and emergencies cannot always be anticipated at the workplace before they happen. When they occur, the supervisor’s ability to manage them is extremely important. A panicky manager’s reaction in times of crises affects the motivation of his or her team members. On the other hand, an optimistic or resolute manager inspires confidence and enthusiasm in their team mates. Organisations that want to break new frontiers must maintain dynamic leaders who can adapt to emergent challenging situations. The hallmark of good managers is their ability to allow enough time to fully reflect on the possible solutions, implications, and cross-cutting effects of any intended solutions before they select the best among the alternative options. Additionally, where they face emergency situations that demand time-sensitive response, they solicit the opinions of other (more) experienced colleagues to advise them on the best solution among the options available.

Give People another Opportunity

Managers who are keen on building their teams’ capacities devote time, resources and efforts in cultivating both technical and soft skills of their teams. The focus is to develop people’s skills and talents, equipping them to improve upon work outputs. An environment where employees are not afraid to make mistakes is one in which managers give constructive feedback in a manner that does not kill creativity. It is also an environment where employees are not always penalized for not meeting performance targets, and are rather supported to improve upon program deliverables. While “giving people second chances” requires a lot of patience from the manager to guide employees; the employees’ willingness to learn in the organization is equally crucial. A learning organisation is the one that creates the conducive climate for employees to unlearn bad behaviour, (re)learn acceptable behavior, and consolidate values of excellence. 

*Harrison Boakye Owusu  is the West Africa Project Officer, YALI Project*

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