29 October 2018

Why do some people struggle to embrace the miracle that is Emotional Intelligence?

Three years into building this business we call Collective Intelligence, I found myself pondering ‘why are some teams so much more productive, achieve greater professional impact and growth as individuals than other teams’? Oh, and they had much more fun.

So I set about analysing each team to find the cause. Looking at age range, gender balance, industry background, education level, their roles, and got absolutely no clear outcomes as to why a team would consistently be more impactful than others. Then I focussed just on the one clear lead team of impact. What did they have the others didn’t? I had the good fortune of facilitating them, and observed like crazy for the next two meetings, and the penny dropped.

I tested my assumption by looking at others teams and I was sure I was onto something.

A Collective Intelligence team is made up of a maximum of 9 people. The team that was out performing the rest, had something the others didn’t. They had 3 members with a high emotional intelligence ‘EQ’. The result was that they were able to challenge each other more, reflect deeper, and have far more intense dialogue without individuals getting grossly upset. To facilitate they were not easier as such, because they pushed me harder too, but the rewards were far greater. And this cluster of 3, with high EQ’s, lifted the rest of the individuals in the team as well.

Other teams had one or two individuals with high EQ, but it wasn’t enough to make a real difference. The 3 together compounded their EQ effect.

With that insight, I thought all I have to do is challenge the other teams to lift their EQ, and Bob’s your Uncle. I can be so naive at times.

This is what happened when I challenged each team – the teams with moderately high EQ reflected and said how do we do that? The teams that were low, reacted by saying ‘we’re okay. No need to change. What do you mean we need to lift our game?’ So the performance of teams with moderate/high EQ lifted and the low stayed just the same. Epic fail of tactics on my part.

Today, when we design teams we try and make sure there is a cluster of at least three high EQ people in each of them. We don’t always get it right but we know what we are aiming for.

But the key message from this Blog is that I am still amazed that the gap between individual’s EQ is profound, and yet it is totally possible to lift this intelligence unlike IQ. The rewards of lifting EQ are enormous, both personally and professionally, so why the resistance?

I can only speak from a Pakeha perspective, and believe that our culture has never really accepted that so called ‘soft skills’ are a cool thing to embrace. And yet it is happening right before our eyes in the most masculine of arenas.

Recently we experienced the amazing come back by the All Black team in South Africa. The AB’s had been beaten in most aspects of the game, and were trailing 30 points to 13, with twenty minutes to play, and managed to come from behind to win at the very last moment. Wow – fabulous finish, and the commentators say ‘what incredible mental toughness’. And I smile and think, when will they call it for what it really is? Emotional toughness or EQ.

Because what the hell is mental toughness? The ability to remember the moves, the lineout throws? Remembering the score, and the rules? That would be about it. Well that is not going to win you the game in the situation the All Blacks found themselves in.

Nope – that would be trusting yourself and your teammates. Staying calm and focussed, and allowing those magnificent bodies to stay fluid and calm. And that my friends, is a form of EQ, on display by a group of masculine men, in a masculine battle.

Let’s look at another sport – tennis. What is the difference between Roger Federer, and say Nick Kyrgios? Both have great physical ability, and similar strokes. But one is the best player the world has seen, and the other will fade into oblivion if he doesn’t sort one, and only one thing, out very soon and it’s his Emotional Intelligence.

So in this age of research which shows businesses and organisations that outperform others because of better teamwork, and leaders with High Emotional Intelligence getting higher results, why are we not embracing the work of people like David Rock and Brene Brown.

I am absolutely flabbergasted when I hear the term fluffy or that soft stuff, in a derogatory way when referring to EQ. The soft skills are the most important skills to develop, over and above technical, and/or academic, and I would appreciate some feedback on how to lift this awareness.

Final point – New Zealand’s appalling suicide rate is a sign our EQ is not great. We live in the most stunning country, and yet have the worst suicide rate in the developed world. Is that not enough motivation to embrace the miracle of Emotional Intelligence?

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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