Employees, and their managers will be unable to engage with their work at the levels needed today for sustained periods until the issue of emotional intelligence is addressed as a key strategic issue in the "C" level suites around the country.
In virtually every management development program I have created or delivered in the past 20 years the point has been made that the greatest challenge facing managers today is their own limited interest in developing their own understanding of this psychological breakthrough , (probably now more appropriately defined in a workplace context as social intelligence ) or these needs among the people who report to them. The fact of emotional intelligence born out now by years of research and anecdotal references continues to bedevil managers today and the problems created as well as their consequences continue to grow. (In many instances we simply have the wrong people managing but that is a topic for another day)
It usually goes without saying but bears repeating here that business in general and certainly the experience of being at work must be considered a contact sport. As our economy has evolved over the last 25 years, the amount of contact has by design, certainly not intent, increased dramatically and my experience strongly suggests that the majority of people in our American workforce are not adequately prepared to participate in a game that requires significant personal initiative and interpersonal skill. For that matter it is probably safe to say that just as many employers are not ready to participate with a workforce possessed of an high social intelligence quotient if this had occurred as part of the evolutionary process.
Evolution may be a catch-all phrase when talking about how the economy has "morphed" over the years but one feature is worth considering; the process generally happens outside of our standard measurements of time and so changes often go unnoticed for extended periods. Management in the American workplace is now standing in front of the outcome of just such an evolutionary outcome, what Peter Senge undoubtedly meant us all to notice when he popularized the term "unintended consequences" in his landmark work, The Fifth Discipline. Educationally and emotionally, many, many people in the workplace today are not prepared to deal successfully with the level of interpersonal complexity they face daily.
A quick look back may serve a purpose here. The industrial economy offered the majority of people in the workforce
- narrowly defined sets of tasks
- high degrees of supervision and
- limited individual discretionary action
Never mind whether this was good or bad; it was what it was and created the foundation for the standard of living we enjoy today. As the economy has proceeded along its path and we have been brought to where we are today certain aspects of that industrial economy were carried over, including some unfortunate ways of thinking about management, meanwhile what we need from employees has changed dramatically. Many managers say they want more initiative, creativity and passion from those reporting to them but are not able to recognize that these additives to the compliance that was the hallmark of a prior time in the workplace are not simple snap-on modules. This outcome begs for transformational education and skill building is also required.
Before patting yourself on the back because you don’t fall into the category of the emotionally underdeveloped or see what I am talking about in your immediate reports, ask yourself and honestly answer these questions:
- Am I able to participate successfully in every conversational exchange without hesitation or caution?
- Am I able to have the conversations I really need to have with my reports so I am optimizing their development as well as their productivity?
- Do I ever see instances where my reports "hold back" with me even though I have repeatedly encouraged them to talk to me about everything?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you were being authentic and the question that remains is, "What is the price you are paying in terms of
- Your own full engagement at work
- Your own productivity
- The level of engagement and productivity of those you are charged with developing
This is not so much an issue of answering a question as it is one of making a commitment. As managers, as executives, are we prepared to work as hard as needed and invest accordingly to bring the social intelligence of our workforces to the levels required by the level of contact and complexity our organizations require to perform as expected? I can tell you from experience that our educational system has yet to even recognize the enormity of the problem.