Leadership and emotional intelligence: A decade of discovery and key questions for HR directors

When Paul Ekman, a prominent emotions researcher, first travelled to the highlands of Papua New Guinea a few decades ago to study emotions in tribes people he could not have imagined the revolution in psychology – and the impact on the workplace - that this would spark.

The burning question for Ekman was: 'are basic human emotions biologically universal to all humans?' Advances in psychology since then, including developments in the area of emotional intelligence (EI), have made it clear the extent to which emotions impact all human behaviour.

Everyone from neuroscientists to psychologists, and in particular HR professionals, are interested in understanding how emotions drive human behaviour - and for good reason.

According to Ekman, emotions determine the quality of our lives and enable us to reach our potential. And, from a commercial perspective, emotions play a key role in determining the success of our businesses.

So, when it comes to developments in emotional intelligence and leadership, what do we know, how are we doing and where are we going? These questions are central to the 2012 Leadership & Emotional Intelligence Summit (www.eqsummit.com) in London on 9 March, in partnership with HR magazine.

An initiative of RocheMartin, the Summit brings together Dr Paul Ekman, a world-leading psychologist and one of Time Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential People, with leading HR professionals from around the world to explore how organisations can identify, measure and develop the emotional skills critical to successful leadership.

The revolution in emotions really gained momentum in 1995 when science journalist Daniel Goleman published his celebrated book, 'Emotional Intelligence.' Although academics may disagree over specific definitions of EI, the emotional skills identified and described by emotional intelligence frameworks continue to be extremely influential. Since then EI has even become part of popular culture, with a hit TV series 'Lie to Me' based upon Dr Ekman's work.

RocheMartin, the host of this year's Summit, has been researching emotional intelligence for over 10 years. Our analysis of the scientific literature on EI and leadership isolated ten distinct emotional and social factors that characterise successful leaders. We describe this model as 'emotional capital' to emphasise the practical and commercial value created by leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence.

RocheMartin has used the Emotional Capital Report (ECR) - the first scientifically developed tool to measure EI and leadership - to collect data from more than 10,000 business leaders globally. In a study looking at cultural effects of leadership, we noted a shift in many cultures away from a hierarchical 'command and control' approach to one characterised by empowerment and inspirational leadership through the effective expression of specific emotional skills.

Global companies such as Ernst & Young, ExxonMobil, SingTel and Quiksilver are among many that have implemented EI training programmes and will be in London for the EQ Summit on March 9th to present detailed case studies.

For example, Karim Nejaim, director of converged services at Optus/Singtel describes a major leadership initiative using the ECR. "We started with the people in our Networks division. Metrics indicated that following the EI programme, this division delivered the highest leadership and customer engagement scores in the history of the business."

Similarly, Agneta Strandberg, HRD and partner at Ernst & Young in Sweden initiated a pilot program using emotional intelligence to build a more effective leadership culture among partners. The program is now being expanded across the entire EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa).

Quiksilver is another example of the relationship between corporate culture and employee engagement. Carol Scherman, Global HR Director, considers EI a critical framework for developing authentic culture. She describes Quiksilver's culture as a mixture of "salts and suits" - a unique mix of people drawn from experiential backgrounds in the surf and extreme sports cultures and broad business experience. Greg Healy, CEO Quiksilver Asia-Pacific, says that: "emotional Intelligence has proven to me that no matter how technically trained you are and how well you know your business, you need to embrace emotional capital to be the leader you aspire to be."

At the Mind and Life Conference in 2000, some of the world's best scientists (including Paul Ekman) met with the Dalai Lama to discuss 'Destructive Emotions' and whether there was any scientific evidence for the benefit of emotional skills. Over the past decade, scientific studies have produced a wealth of incontrovertible data to support it. And at a personal level, programme participants (such as ExxonMobil executives in Australia) frequently describe the impact as "life changing."

Looking to the future, Andrew Humphries, an advisor to the UK Government, is convinced that socially and emotionally capable people are more productive citizens and can help the UK compete in the global economy. Andrew is the prime mover behind 'The Attitude Academy', a series of programmes taking emotional intelligence to adolescents within the education system. "Bringing emotional skills to the next generation," says Andrew, "will be critical for the future of work."

Clearly, we've come along way in the past 10 years, but many questions still remain. This years EQ Summit provides a compelling opportunity to explore the future possibilities with each of these leading global executives.

Martyn Newman (pictured), MD RocheMartin

For more information on the Leadership and Emotional Intelligence Summit on 9 March, visit www.eqsummit.com