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Nuala Forsey


Head of Leadership Development

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Emotional Quotient – the key to balanced leadership


The recession may finally be on the way out, according to recent quarter-on-quarter figures from the Office of National Statistics. What does the future hold for business, in this new economic phase and how can HR professionals recognise, nurture and develop business leaders?

There’s no doubting that we are in need of strong business leaders to take the helm in the journey out of recession.  But what effect has years of economic stagnation had on those at the forefront of UK businesses?

Generational Impact

Jamie Oliver famously described the young people of this generation as ‘too wet for work’. A shortage of opportunities for those wanting to climb the corporate ladder has meant that these managers are afraid of questioning those around them, which means that they are ineffective leaders and uninspiring within the company. This is what I call ‘generation zzz’.

These leaders are ruled by the thought ‘I’m lucky to even have this job’ and are afraid to do anything to jeopardise their position.  This is something we can all sympathise with, but businesses cannot grow in an atmosphere of fear. The redeeming quality of ‘generation zzz’ is that they are more receptive of differences of opinion within the company.

This is something that cannot be said of their more experienced polar opposites; ‘generation grr’. These are the leaders that saw great success in pre-recession days. They are characterised by a confident, go-getting and aggressive demeanour. This often created a bullying culture, with leaders who are intolerant of opposition and questioning. Businesses saw an ‘us and them’ atmosphere between leaders and their teams, and leaders who were unchallenged and allowed to make bad decisions. Some of these leaders are starting to be held accountable for their actions  – think Paul Flowers of Co-Op Bank or Fred ‘the shred’ Goodwin at RBS. However, many are still in situ.

Developing Emotional Quotient (EQ) for Balanced Leadership

Of course, these two styles of leadership are two extreme ends of the spectrum – and neither makes for a good leader. Now that the recession is coming to an end, businesses are beginning to examine the way in which managers are trained. Research by CIPD[1] has discovered that 36% of line managers have not been trained specifically for their leadership role. Almost half of all organisations have promoted staff to leadership roles based on their past performance rather than their skills in leadership or management. A third of those surveyed, stated that ‘other priorities’ stood in the way of ensuring that the whole team was well supported.

Most businesses would say that the ideal leader would be a combination of the best features of ‘generation grr’ and ‘generation zzz’. However, there is one thing missing from both styles: emotional intelligence.  This is measured using the Emotional Quotient (EQ). The measure looks at the ability to perceive, control and evaluate your own and others emotions. A person’s EQ affects how they think, and as a result, the decisions they make. This is vital to effective leadership and management.

EQ is divided into four sections:

  • Self-awareness: the ability to recognise and understand emotions in yourself
  • Social awareness: the ability to recognise and understand emotions of others
  • Self-management: the ability to manage your own emotions
  • Relationship management: using emotional understanding in interactions with others[2]

By developing all four of these areas, businesses can see results remarkably quickly. As a result, all employees feel they are more respected, have higher morale and higher levels of trust. This applies between peers and also between managers and team members. Decision-making and communication also becomes more effective.

Honest feedback and development plans are key

One case study that illustrates this is Jen, who sought help after being looked over for promotion several times. She was unaware of her overly aggressive style. She received all round feedback using the Hay McBer ESCI tool that measures emotional intelligence, over a period of six months. I coached her on a monthly basis, where the focus was managing her impact on others, her communication skills and how she built relationships. Jen’s story is a successful one, as she gained her promotion and kept up to date with her feedback and coaching years to come.

EQ is unlike IQ, in that it can be developed and improved in adulthood. EQ and IQ are not related; a high IQ does not automatically indicate a high EQ. The key to success often lies in self-management and the management of others, rather than intelligence. Businesses who invest in EQ development can see results in the way that employees engage with people and ideas, therefore it is an important area of all businesses to develop.


1. CIPD, Real-life leaders: closing the knowing-doing gap, September 2013
2. Arevelk, ESCI: Emotional and Social Competency Inventory, 2011

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Nuala Forsey

Head of Leadership Development

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