Women And Emotional Intelligence

By awuraba
Click for Full Image Size
Listen to article

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you read the title correctly: it says 'Women and Emotional Intelligence', not 'Women and emotions'. Just checking! The term Emotional Intelligence is only a few years old. It was coined by Daniel Goleman, who wrote the pioneering book on the subject. He actually co-authored it with his wife, Tara, triggered by sitting through many frustrating business meetings with her, particularly of boards they both sat on.

He was only too aware that for some reason they weren't working well. But it was his wife who was able to tune in to the emotional currents beneath the surface of those meetings and identify the ones that diverted the group's focus and energy, keeping them from getting their business done. So how do we define Emotional Intelligence? Here's one attempt, by Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf, in their excellent book called Executive EQ. (Let me explain here that EQ stands for Emotional Quotient, Just like IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient. For people have devised ways of measuring EQ just like they have for IQ.)

It is the ability, Cooper and Sawaf say, to sense, understand and effectively apply emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection and influence. Let me try and put it more simply, and addressing Golding's original concern head on: when we display high EQ we are able to manoeuvre through human interactions in such a way that good things happen for all concerned. Not just for you, at someone's expense, but for everyone. That's why I've put that 'win-win' tag at the bottom. No one ever said that going for winwin was easy, but that's what high EQ people aim at. Now let me ask a question: do women have higher EQ than men? Well Mr. Golding had to rely on his wife's insights. Maybe he wasn't that unusual. And if not, what might the explanation be?

Take a look at this slide. Here I try and explain why it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect women to have had to develop higher EQ than men, simply in order to survive. We have to manage without bulging biceps and in the absence of holding positions of authority, whether in the family or beyond. And we have had to become masters, or mistresses, of multi-tasking, involving all the emotional strength which that requires. A key requirement for a high-EQ person is excellent self-knowledge. And haven't we found that the more powerful someone becomes, the more they risk getting out of touch with who they really are and how they come across? And what do powerful people have in common? Most of them are men! As people become more powerful, those around them increasingly tell them what they want to hear. The powerful think they're in touch. They imagine their EQ is high. But it is not.

In today's organisations, life is highly disciplined. Managers have done everything possible to make life rational and predictable, with strategies and plans, structures and systems, procedures and rules. And of course information technology has greatly enabled this approach. No room for emotions here. Then, when we enter today's organisations we enter a man's world, or to put it more precisely, a macho world. It is a world where we focus ruthlessly on tasks. We're always in such a rush that there's simply 'no time' to worry about the people who perform the tasks. And because life is desperately competitive, we're perpetually aiming to get one up on our colleagues – which we are deliberately encouraged to do so by incentive schemes that reward individuals rather than teams.

In this rat race if I win, I do so at your expense. There ain't room for the two of us on the winner's podium. Little wonder that the environment encourages us to work ever-longer hours, fly ever more miles to attend ever more meetings. And then of course we expect to swap tales of our heroic exploits over a few beers. No emotions here either. Just hard guys doing hard things. Hard guys like Arnie 'the Governator' of California, who described some of his opponents as 'girlie men' when they failed to confront a tough political issue to his satisfaction. This aversion to emotions in not just implicit. Managers have easily spelt out why emotions are bad. They interfere with efficiency, reasoning and judgement; are time wasting; and hold people back from taking the necessary hard decisions. Rightly, in this sense, they say that emotions get in the way of organisational effectiveness. Women – and men – please note. But the challenges, the stresses and strains, are great in this 21st century of ours. Wall Street and its equivalents around the world demand permanent growth of profits; and so corporate leaders keep upping the ante on their people. Revenues must increase even as costs continue to be squeezed.

Globalisation brings the need to operate around the clock, seven days a week. And efforts to remain competitive result in the now familiar phenomenon of downsizing, including through outsourcing and constant restructuring. The pressures to comply with contemporary governance requirements and government regulations are also constantly increasing. Why am I reminding you of all this? Because of its consequences on the human beings who inhabit these organisations. For our ever-tougher competitive environment, always in search of squeezing more productivity from its human resources (I far prefer the term 'people'), fills those very resources with impotence, fear, anger and frustration. We read about it every day, and about the resulting stress. We also know that in turn this leads to employees having less trust in their senior management, and so become less committed, less loyal.

by Evelyn Mungai, President, All Africa Businesswomen's Association At the Eskom African business leaders forum Johannesburg, South Africa