Greg is a successful senior executive with a shipping company in Seattle. However, his latest performance review highlighted a lack of communication skills. He appeared to be involved in an inordinate number of misunderstandings with colleagues that sometimes ended in conflict.
People tended to avoid clarifying these miscommunications with Greg because he made them feel foolish and unintelligent. He blocked feedback with subtle putdowns making it impossible for staff to have input in decisions. So they’d carry out his orders, even though they knew some of the directives might be bad for business. Greg’s team, too frustrated to confront him, ended up being mostly grumbling “yes-men”.
Greg’s boss, the company vice-president, became so exasperated at Greg’s pattern of behaviour that he called our practice to get his employee some leadership coaching, Greg was initially reluctant, claiming the problem was caused by his “hard head” subordinates.
It is not uncommon for executives to balk at examining their leadership practices. While changing old ways of behaviour at work is never easy, the use of standardized measures of leadership abilities can help. Greg agreed to measure his emotional intelligence, or EQ, because it was quantifiable. It wasn’t simply the impressions of a bunch of staff. It involved his own input.
Leaders accustomed to extreme self-reliance are sometimes more willing to believe what they say about themselves than accept the feedback of others-even the boss. That’s where standardized tests are useful.
Quantifiable data gives leaders a snapshot of their behaviour, abilities and practices, helping them see what leadership tactics work and what do not.
James Breeze, Director of Business Development with Multi-Health Systems (MHS) of Toronto, said the beauty of taking a standardized test is that it’s personalized. “(With testing), you’ve said things about yourself. No one has said them about you.”
MHS specializes in publishing and developing professional assessment tools useful in the business context.
One such tool is the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i). The EQ-i takes about 30-40 minutes to complete and gives information on how respondents see themselves, how aware they are of their own emotions and those of others, and what they understand their impact on others to be.
The EQ-i measures self-esteem, as well as empathy level, happiness and optimism. The measure identifies how well respondents create effective working relationships. Their ability to be flexible, cooperative, collaborative and constructive is also revealed. Stress and anger management, impulse control and problem solving capabilities are all captured by the test.
The EQ-i has 133 questions such as “My impulsiveness creates problems” and “Even when upset, I’m aware of what’s happening to me. The questions are answered on a 5-point scale ranging from “not true of me” to “true of me”.
The EQ-i is popular with leaders who crave information about what makes them tick. “The test illuminates areas you may not have thought were a problem and brings those issues to light”, said Breeze in a recent interview.
Standardized testing can be a powerful motivator.
“Leaders’ scores are compared against other peoples’ scores or the average profile and leader’s can ask, ‘So, how did I perform?'” said Breeze. Business executives like this idea because they can see how they stack up against others. If the scores don’t look good, they know they can improve them because interpersonal effectiveness is a learned skill.
Greg was shocked at his test results. While they showed he was usually in a good mood, assertive, independent and an above average stress manager, he fared poorly on other scores.
He reluctantly realized his staff and boss’s feedback and impressions of his leadership might have been on the mark. Greg’s ability to create successful working relationships was low. He scored as uncooperative, authoritarian and unempathic.
“I guess I’m not so good at playing in the sandbox with the other kids as I thought I was,” he said ruefully.
On the basis of his scores, Greg decided to improve his leadership practices. Luckily, “emotional intelligence, unlike IQ, is a characteristic rather than a (leadership) trait and that makes it teachable. You can’t change your IQ by much but you can change your EQ.” said Breeze.
Greg realized that good leaders need high emotional intelligence to be well rounded. Without leadership skills such as empathy, self-awareness and an ability to work well with and inspire others, his performance was severally impeded.
Greg carefully examined his leadership practices, gained a better understanding of himself and his emotions. He learned how to talk to people and draw out their concerns, making himself approachable in the process.
His performance evaluations improved and so did his team’s effectiveness. Staff turnover was reduced and the organization prospered with changes he implemented in the shipping process.
Greg surprised himself and his organization with how fast he turned his business around.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at email@example.com
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.