Emotional Intelligence in C-level leaders.

“As CEO’s we often get hired or succeed to the position based on our ability to get things done. Once in the role, we must realize that what got us here, does not necessarily guarantee our success in the CEO seat. To be a successful leader we need to intentionally develop and use more of our Interpersonal Relationship Skills.”

David Hallquist – CEO

Vermont Electric Cooperative

Over the last 6 years in CEO and Key Executive peer groups around the world, over 7,000 CEO’s and C-level executives have been assessing and have had their emotional functioning assessed using the Bar-On Model of Emotional Intelligence (EQi).  The Bar-On model is a scientifically validated assessment of Emotional Intelligence (EI) that measures, “an array of non-cognitive skills, emotional and social skills, that influence a person’s ability to successfully cope with environmental pressures and demands.” (Reuven Bar-On 1997) This particular assessment measures 15 non-cognitive competencies of 5 composite skills ranging from interpersonal to general mood that make up an individual’s Emotional Quotient, their respective EQ.

This data collection of those at the top of the organizational pyramid has brought attention to some insightful and important patterns of C-Level Emotional Intelligence.

Many leaders do indeed want to know if their behavioral “zipper is down.”  They want to identify and understand the costs and benefits of the 15 non-cognitive skills. They want to understand how these skills impact their own self-management and their ability to not only survive and cope, but to thrive as they respond to the environmental pressures and demands in their professional and personal lives.

By guiding leaders through an acute self-awareness process via the EQi assessment, C-Levels executives become aware of their emotional functioning and how it manifests itself into sometimes predicable patterns of behavior. They gain valuable insights into when their “emotional-zipper” is down.

As Hallquist implies, many leaders are “doers” by nature. As such, CEO’s may be hesitant to have EI competences such as empathy, social responsibility, interpersonal relationships and impulse control measured.   And, while they may be uncomfortable or even disagree with the results in the short-term, the heightened awareness and subsequent EI skill building may be just what the C-Level leader needs to begin to improve their leadership effectiveness in the long-term.

The Role of the CEO and C-Level Executive and the Critical EI skills required

As a result of thousands of hours of developmental leadership conversations with C-level executives about their Emotional Intelligence greater clarity on a vital role of a CEO has been identified.  Through these conversations, along with observations of what these leaders “do” everyday, it has become apparent that a role of the C-level executive and especially the CEO is to influence individual and organizational behavior. The day a leader is tasked and accepts the challenge to lead, he or she enters the “behavioral influence business.” A leader’s success depends less on the “ability to get things done” and more on the ability to influence others to think and behave in ways that will help the business succeed.

The 15 non-cognitive competencies measured by the Bar-On EQi Model of Emotional Intelligence provides these leaders with valuable information and insights about how certain patterns in their EI skills may enhance or hinder their ability to influence behavior and ultimately effectively lead..

The following represent two examples of the paradoxical combinations of EI skills and how these high/low combinations  may affect a leader’s effectiveness.

Combination #1: The Relationship between High Assertiveness and Low Impulse Control.

A CEO, in a Seattle based $40 million Equipment Sales and Service business, learned that his combination of high assertiveness coupled with a lower impulse control, set the stage for “energized and spontaneous” conflict.  This is a common EI pattern at the very top. Many of the CEO’s assessed demonstrated a high ability to be assertive and are quite comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings and beliefs.  However, many CEO’s are lower than the norm in their ability to delay or resist an impulse, drive or temptation to act.  This combination seems to support the sense of urgency CEO’s often feel  to “get things done.”

When a CEO is high in assertiveness and low in impulse control predictable patterns of behavior such as the “energized and spontaneous” conflict can occur without conscious thought by the CEO. It is not hard for anybody to think of a conversation they have had with someone who was being assertive yet that assertiveness was laden with the emotions of impatience, frustration or anger to be able to imagine the negative effect of high assertiveness and low impulse control. It certainly does not make the receivers of this type of communication open to the idea of feedback. Many individuals on the receiving end of this EI paradoxical relationship feel they are being judged and in some cases attacked by their leader. This does not the lay a strong foundation for influencing positive behavior.

As a result of learning about the possible impact of this EI pattern, this CEO has adjusted his approach by deliberately neutralizing those triggered emotional reactions so that he can be more intentional and less “spontaneous” when he approaches and responds to people. He is also more disciplined in preparing for conversations as a way of dialing-down the energy of the differences between the two.  This change of behavior has allowed him to be more strategic in chosing his times to discuss high stakes topics with key team members finding him with better outcomes.

Pattern #2: The Relationship between High Assertiveness and Low Empathy

“Learning to listen and ask questions instead of telling is BIG” reports a CEO who recently learned that his assertiveness was high and his empathy was low. This is another common pattern that resides in many C-level executives.  To further clarify the relationship between the two, we suggest that high Assertiveness is measured by looking at how much time in a leader’s day is spent “advocating” an opinion, idea or direction.

Empathy, the ability to be aware of, understand and appreciate the feelings of others can be more objectively measured by looking at the degree to which the leader can move into an “inquiry mode”. A leader will be unable to become aware of and understand and appreciate the feelings of others unless he or she has taken the time to “inquire” about them in the first place. How much time in their day do CEOs spend actually inquiring as to the opinions, thoughts, feeling and beliefs of their employees? Many CEO’s will admit to forgetting to do the inquiry mode part in their effort to influence people and get things done.

One argument made for adding empathy to their leadership discipline is simply this. How likely is it that a person will be able to influence another’s behavior if he/she does not feel his/her own opinions are appreciated and understood?

Low Empathy has the potential to minimize a leader’s ability to influence behavior and thus lead effectively in the behavioral influence business.  This awareness gives them the rationale for demonstrating more empathy and listening with real intention.  Are CEOs listening or just waiting to speak?

No One Size Fits All for C-Level Executives

There is no one size fits all to successful EI patterns of C-level executives. Some of the leaders coached have the opposite high/low EI patterns to those identified above and yet experience similar costs and benefits.

After receiving the results of his EI assessment, a CEO with a $16 million Consulting and Service business with a combination of very high empathy coupled with low assertiveness got the opportunity to consider the behavioral implications of this high/low combination. His insight was that over the years he had leveraged the high empathy skill to build a firm with a great reputation for being a “Preferred Place To Work.” However, after considering the behavioral implications of high empathy combined with low assertiveness the CEO now felt a need to elevate the accountability in his firm’s culture.

Not holding people accountable is a common theme for leaders who are high in empathy low in assertiveness. By putting too much emphasis on how a person might be feeling they fail to provide specific feedback, set clear expectations and hold people accountable for deliverables – they don’t wish to make the person uncomfortable. The key here is to take into account and appreciate the feelings of their employees but not to let that interfere with the leader’s responsibility for advocating a clear line about what is and what is not acceptable behavior.

It does not matter which high/low EI combination a C-level executive has. Whether the leader has the more commonly seen EI pattern or is an outlier is of no real concern. What does matter is how their EI skills help or hinder their effectiveness to influence and to lead.

C-level executives who take the time and invest the energy to evaluate their emotional functioning through the use of an instrument like the Bar-On EQi and who then consider its implications can and will outperform those that do not. An assessment like Bar-On’s does provide very specific information and insights about where a leader’s “zipper is down”, especially as it pertains to how they influence, lead and communicate to those all around them. As Hallquist implies in the first quotation, this is really important for C-Levels leaders to understand as they evolve away from the role of “doers’ and move into the role of “influencers.”

Leading Challenges, LLC provides 4 hour EI presentations to national and international CEO groups (<a href=”http://www.vistage.com/”>www.vistage.com</a>), delivers keynote speeches, assesses EI, provides EI skill development and delivers EI skill training and development with individuals and teams via one-on-one and group coaching/facilitation sessions. To learn more about C-Level EI assessment and EI based leader development contact Leading  Challenges at 802.253.2663 in Stowe, Vermont.


Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

Comments are closed.