Do Managers Need Emotional Intelligence to Manage Successfully in the Workplace?

10 October 2016

The complex nature of emotional intelligence and its imperative role in wider social affairs has given rise to the examination of its relevance to effective management and leadership. Increasing awareness of the necessity of emotional intelligence within the workplace is evident in numerous studies and research relevant to this area over the recent decades.

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The link between successful management and emotional intelligence is apparent as it can be seen that high emotional awareness and an ability to manage these emotions highlights three key aspects essential to good leadership: the provision of sustenance for the development of high quality interpersonal relationships with employees, improvement of the decision-making and problem-solving process by factoring in emotional consideration, and the creation of organisational awareness and identity through inspiring and constructing a collective sense of objectives.

Strong communication and teamwork are undoubtedly the fundamental elements of successful workplace management and it is through good communication that a sense of trust and intimacy can be nurtured, hence creating the basis for and developing the strength of interpersonal bonds. According to the Salovey, Mayer and Caruso four-branch model of emotional intelligence, it is through the establishment of these strong interpersonal relationships which allow for leaders to generate motivation and instil optimism and enthusiasm within his/her followers.

Being able to accurately appraise and express emotions ensures the effective communication between individuals and thus provides them with a deeper understanding of the people they work with (Carmeli 2013, p791). By creating an atmosphere of cooperation and having an improved perception of emotion, followers will be more supportive of a leader’s decisions and thus be more obliged to appreciate and promote the organisation’s objectives (Zeidner et al 2004, p387).

The ability to communicate effectively with followers allows a leader to connect on an individual basis and to inspire and share collective visions with the team. Goleman cited in Lam and O’Higgins (2010, p151), “Empathy… is the fundamental people skill. ” showing the concept of ‘social intelligence’ overlapping with that of emotional awareness and the importance of understanding and sympathising with the concerns, requirements and unspoken feelings of others. As high quality interpersonal relationships ignificantly enhance group cohesiveness and collaboration (Lam and O’Higgins 2010, p156), it is evident that empathy contributes to successful management of others, and an emotionally healthy workplace environment is fostered through a leader’s maintenance of positive relationships and understanding of the organisational members’ emotional needs. The ability to accurately assess and respond to others’ feelings enables a leader to implement significant change within an organisation and to influence the emotions and opinions of its members (George 2000, p1044).

The positive correlation between transformational leadership and emotional intelligence is proven in the study conducted by Younghee et al (2011) whereby the characteristic traits of transformational leaders, such as active listening, inspiring motivation, sharing of ideas and values and individualised consideration, are exhibited in leaders high in emotional intelligence.

Emotions are actively involved in the formation of judgement and the management of one’s own emotions is essential to effective leadership as it is through an emotional self-understanding that an empathic approach can be taken when managing an employee who has been confronted with an emotionally challenging situation.

These leaders are able to consequently predict the emotional responses of employees in different circumstances or events; this capacity to recognise and use emotions and to respond appropriately directs the cognitive processes in decision-making and problem-solving, hence allowing for emotionally informed decisions to be made and, by extension, allowing for positive and creative organisational outcomes. By understanding the emotional concerns of the employees, a manager is well-equipped to address their issues and provide individualised support.

According to Frigda (1988), as cited by George (2000), diversity in emotional self-awareness is also an important aspect of leadership effectiveness as it enables the capacity to register negative feelings caused by certain issues, hence redirecting a manager’s attention towards them. By bringing immediate consideration to these issues and noticing the initial signs of employees’ emotional disturbance, the emotional climate of an organisation can be assessed and hence workplace problems can be eliminated and avoided.

Positive emotions foster creativity, allowing flexibility in decision-making and the consideration of alternate scenarios to a solution. Developing a shared vision for the organisation is a crucial element of effective leadership (George 2000, p1039) and it is through the ability to inspire and motivate employees that a manager can encourage movement towards a collective sense of objectives and goals to promote organisational outcomes.

The utilisation of emotional language through charisma can articulate an appealing vision for the future, and thus persuade followers to transcend their personal interests for the collective organisational interest. Transformational leadership, considered the most effective leadership style (Lam and O’Higgins 2010, p153), can be established by four components – idealised influence (charisma), inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualised consideration – where all four dimensions are highly correlated with the understanding and management of emotions.

As the name suggests, transformational leaders transform the needs and values of followers so that they are receptive to and supportive of the leader’s goals, while providing individual consideration (Ashkanasy and Daus 1993, p81). Values are infused with emotion and when those of the employees and organisation are attuned to each other, a common identity and shared ideologies are created.

The promotion of a vision or set of values which is consistent with both that of the employees and organisation fosters the employees’ commitment to the organisation and, in turn, employees are able to appreciate their personal contribution, causing an increase in job satisfaction due to elevated levels of self-efficacy. Therefore, through an analysis of the reciprocal relationship of emotional intelligence and management in the workplace, it is evident that the ability to empathise and communicate emotional concerns promotes the building of high quality interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

Emotional self-awareness, a thorough understanding and management of feelings, and the utilisation of the four dimensions of the transformational leadership style can allow for informed decision-making processes, inspiration for developing a sense of unity and collective goals, commitment to an organisation, and fostering of an emotionally healthy workplace environment. Thus, high emotional intelligence is crucial in the successful management of a workplace.

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