Emotional Intelligence – Looking at the Whole Picture

September 16, 2013

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine featured a thoughtful article by Jennifer Kahn on a relatively new teaching strategy in primary education called social-emotional learning or S.E.L.  S.E.L. presupposes that emotions factor into a child’s ability to learn and that educators can and should focus on instilling “deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.”  As a former teacher, I can attest to the challenges educators face daily in executing their lesson plans.  While trying to resolve conflicts and spend time with children whose inability to effectively deal with their emotions and subsequently, their ability to interact socially with their peers, teachers and administrators can quickly fall off track.  The over-emphasis on state standardized test scores diminishes the importance of teaching students how to be good citizens and how to effectively communicate and resolve problems.  More importantly, I’d question the value of an education that does not focus some time to teaching kids how to better understand and process their emotions.  This is young methodology and as the article concedes, could be misinterpreted and ineffectively administered.  I look at the discussion on S.E.L. in terms of how to better hire, manage and evaluate the efficacy of your leaders.

Your most successful people managers possess the people skills to navigate the politics of your workplace and the diverse personalities that populate your office.  I’ve seen extremely bright C-level executives with good project plans, clearly stated goals and timelines, fail to see their plan merit results due to lack of consensus, clarity and execution from their teams.  In almost every case, they failed to pick up on basic cues from their people that would have helped them understand that the plan was not sold or that team members were confused.  Worse yet, employees that did not feel comfortable vocalizing their confusion remained silent while deadlines passed, often misinterpreting their role and submitting the wrong work.  Had these leaders possessed bona fides that do not easily show up on a resume, and certainly are not measured on any test, good plans would have had a greater likelihood of success.

According to Chicago-based CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), there are five competency clusters that educators focus on instilling in their students.  Think of your last boss and ask yourself how you’d score them on the following criteria.

Emotional Intelligence

Think of some of the most effective world leaders in recent memory.  From Nelson Mandela to Abraham Lincoln, their ability to overcome opposition to their initiatives correlates with their own history of overcoming great personal adversity.  Lincoln is a prime example of someone who would be described as having tremendous emotional intelligence and self-awareness.  Can we teach these kinds of attributes?  How do we look for them when hiring leaders?

Sign up for our newsletter