Understanding Emotional Intelligence in Relationship to Leadership
Senior charge Nurse
What makes a good leader? Is there a simple uncomplicated answer to that small question? In all probability that is unlikely. Finding a definition that would describe this concept has never been agreed (Swansburg & Swansburg 2002). In all probability the lack of a clear concise definition is almost certainly due to the fact that leadership is a multi-complex concept; taking in styles, personality, organisational and political influences, ones ability to mentor or coach, effective communication, critical and creative thinking and effective team building. These are just a few titles of the many aspects of this concept, with each aspect further covering a vast array of sub headings.
It is the focus of this article to look at a very different area – the area of emotional intelligence (EI/EQ)—for the essence of this article emotional intelligence will be abbreviated as EI. Caruso et al (2002) described EI as the ability to perceive emotion, to access and generate emotion, to assist thought, and finally to understand emotion, emotional knowledge and intellectual growth. Additionally, Goleman (2001) puts forward the notion that EI refers to ones ability to recognise and regulate emotions in oneself and others.
Traditionally emotion and intelligence were considered two separate entities. Emotion was considered to perceive feelings, empathy and sentiment, whereas intelligence was considered analytical, aptitude and intellect. Charles Darwin, who, in 1872 published his work on emotions in man and animals, viewed the emotional intelligence system as a necessity for the survival of the fittest. According to Darwin it is not the strongest of the species that survives, or the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Subsequently EI would appear to follow on from Robert Sternberg’s (1985) work on ‘practical intelligence’ and is consistent with theorizing by Nancy Cantor and John Kihlstrom (1987) about ‘social intelligence’. Considering briefly the work of Wechsler (1940), who argued that intelligence carries two elements, non-intellective’ and ‘intellective’. These ‘non-intellective’ elements, as argued by Wechsler (1940) were affective, personal and social factors. Additionally he argued that the non-intellective abilities were necessary for predicting one’s capabilities to succeed.
Mayer & Salovey (1995) brought the concept of emotional intelligence to the forefront of contemporary ideology, with the conceptualization that they describe more specifically by outlining the competencies it encompasses.
In their well published ‘Ability Model’ (1995) they organize these competencies along four branches:
(1) The ability to perceive, appraise, and express emotion accurately;
(2) The ability to access and generate feelings when they facilitate cognition;
(3) The ability to understand affect-laden information and make use of emotional knowledge;
(4) The ability to regulate emotions to promote growth and well-being.
It could perhaps be argued that EI is rather broad and includes a range of adaptive characteristics associated with emotions for example, the ability to effectively communicate emotions (Goleman, 2001). Whereas, other principles of EI places emphasis on the cognitive elements, such as emotions aiding judgment and memory (Mayer et al 2000). Furthermore, researchers have conceptualized emotional intelligence both as an ability and as a trait (Goleman 2001 Mayer et al 2001, Schutte & Malouff 1999). Conversely, it has been argued that EI provides little in the way of substantial evidence and that it is no more than assumptions which contrary to what researchers have come to expect when studying types of intelligence (Eysenck 2000). Similarly, Locke (2005) claims that the concept of EI is in itself a misinterpretation of the intelligence construct, and he offers an alternative interpretation: it is not another form or type of intelligence, but intelligence—the ability to grasp abstractions—applied to a particular life domain: emotions. He suggests the concept should be re-labelled and referred to as skills. How does EI link with Leadership?
Looking at the arguments discussed here, how does EI link with leadership? Does it have a place?
Leadership is the ability to get the job done with and through others, while at the same time winning their confidence, respect, loyalty and cooperation. Arguably the first part of this statement could also be akin to management. However, the second part of the statement highlights the differences that can exist between a leader and a non- leader. Empirical evidence suggests that the ability for a leader to identify emotions and feelings within themselves also allows them to accurately identify with the emotions of peers and groups, and correctly identify these emotions (Caruso et al 2002).
George (2000) suggests that leaders’ use of emotions can enhance cognitive processes and decision making. He furthermore reports on evidence that positive EI triggers optimism and initiates positive perception and perspectives. George (2000), additionally offers the contrasting comparison of negative EI triggers, proposing that this will ultimately result in pessimism and negativism.
There are many styles of leadership and it is unlikely than any one leader uses the same style all of the time. As situations change then styles will adapt to accommodate that change.
However if we briefly examine two of these styles, that of transformational and transactional leadership.
Then the link between EI and transformational leadership is fairly obvious.
Transformational leaders raise the motivation of followers to reach far beyond their established standards and are individuals who promote effective change individually and holistically in their organization. They achieve this by understanding their followers. Subsequently it could be argued that this holistic understanding is achieved by the leader having a commonality of understanding with their followers and their EI. Research undertaken by Palmer et al (2001) provided evidence that emotional intelligence correlated with several components of transformational leadership suggesting that it may be an important component of effective leadership. In particular emotional intelligence may account for how effective leaders monitor and respond to subordinates and make them feel at work.
Conversely, transactional leaders are essentially extrinsic motivators, achieving their outcomes by being target orientated. The transactional leader is much more akin to the traditional managerial concept and recognizes the need for the day-to-day running of the organization (Marquis & Huston 2003). Marturano (2004) argues that transactional leadership is built on reciprocity, the idea that the relationship between leader and their followers develops from the exchange of some reward, such as performance ratings, pay, recognition, and praise. Subsequently, Marturano (2004) suggests, that it involves leaders clarifying goals and objectives, communicating to organize tasks and activities with the co-operation of their employees to ensure that wider organizational goals are met.
Although transformational leadership is held as the current ideal and leaders with these qualities are highly desirable, many theorists argue that this style alone will fail if not coupled with transactional qualities (Bass et al 1987, Dunham and Klafehn 1990, Bennis 1989).
Perhaps the most effective leaders are the ones who practice situational leadership. Arguably this encompasses all elements of leadership and adapts and changes as the situation dictates. The fundamental ethos behind this theory is that there is no one leadership style that will suit every occasion ( Hersey 1985).
To link EI with situational leadership, Goleman et al (2004) identified with the elements of EI and situational leadership emphasizing the need for managers/leaders to change as the situation changes. This can be compared with Hersey ( 1995) descriptor, which depicts similar concepts.
Emotional intelligence is not a new concept, but it would appear to be one that is divided between what can be proven by scientific evaluation and the concept of theorists. It can however display many benefits in its understanding that intellect and intelligence are not necessarily the same.
I feel that it can be argued that if EI is used in conjunction with transformational leadership then it can enhance the emotional intellect of followers and motivate them to levels that they may have been essentially unaware of.
Subsequently if it were possible to enable leaders to have less managerial responsibilities and focus on their leadership qualities then the need for the transactional element would be greatly reduced.
However in today’s health care culture the latter suggestion is unlikely to materialize. Therefore we look set to adopt a multi-faceted style of leadership, ideally one that also enables us to allow the development of emotional intelligence. Perhaps this concept would provide accommodation for more situational leaders to emerge?
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