By Abby Saloma
In 2001, I was a young, ambitious account executive working at a big-name marketing firm. My boss was trying to climb her way to the top, knocking down everyone who got in her way. She did not inspire or build authentic relationships with those around her. She did not show empathy when her team members were struggling. She gave off a negative energy that permeated the entire team.
Ultimately, she left a wake of discouraged young talent, all of whom left for different companies. In my case, it took a single year for me to quit and move into a different sector.
My boss had all of the technical skills needed to do her job. What she lacked was emotional intelligence, defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. Often dismissed as a “soft skill,” research shows that emotional intelligence is actually a critical attribute of successful leaders. In fact, a 2016 Harvard Business Review article cited emotional intelligence as one of the biggest predictors of performance in the workplace and a strong driver of leadership and personal excellence.
“Without it,” writes Dan Goleman in his 1996 book that popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, “a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”
That feels even truer today – almost two decades later – when the challenges facing us are more complex and interconnected.
The good news is that support for strengthening emotional intelligence is steadily gaining traction, especially in the for-profit sector, where many recognize that an investment in the development of their people is an investment in the bottom line.
We in the nonprofit sector and the Jewish community would be wise to take note as well that there is no better investment of professional development dollars than an investment in emotional intelligence.
According to Goleman, emotional intelligence – often referred to as EQ or EI – is comprised of four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Within each domain are 12 competencies, including adaptability, empathy, conflict management and influence.
To make it more concrete: imagine yourself in a meeting on a contentious topic. In scenario one, the CEO affirms that it is challenging, asks for the team’s perspective, listens intently and then calmly asks for support in her decision. In scenario two, the CEO hastily brings up the agenda item, cuts off team members who try to share their perspective and gives them a directive. Which CEO lacks EI? The second, of course.
Emotional intelligence competencies are learned – and learnable. To get started, organizations should consider taking a three-step approach to customizing emotional intelligence development:
- Create the time and space for 360–degree feedback in your organization. Individuals should get feedback from their supervisor, team members they manage and peers, using EI-related questions as a frame. For example: What are this person’s three greatest strengths as a leader? In order for this person to become a better leader, what would you like to see her do less of or stop doing altogether? What would you like to see her start doing or do more of in order to become a better leader?
- Provide flexibility when allotting professional development funds. Trainings and workshops designed to build hard skills directly tied to one’s job function are important. And coaching engagements and experiences to practice self-awareness are just as, if not more, critical.
- Build in on–the–job “stretch projects” that enable leaders to flex EI muscles. Using the 70/20/10 model of leadership development – which says that 70% of learning happens on the job – engage team members in projects and initiatives that push them outside their comfort zones and develop an area of emotional intelligence that needs work. If a manager is struggling with teamwork, for example, have him lead a cross-organizational task force (and give feedback to him while he does so).
We are starting to see champions for this type of investment in the Jewish nonprofit sector. The Wexner and Dorot Foundations recognize that building leadership capacity requires a focus on the professional as a whole person. Organizations like Hillel and BBYO are similarly making major investments in leadership coaching.
Here at Schusterman, we too have recognized the need to incorporate emotional intelligence development into our efforts to cultivate and support leaders. In 2015, we established the Schusterman Fellowship to prepare leaders poised to take on critical roles in the Jewish sector. Our program is driven by a handful of guiding principles: that leaders each possess a unique set of evolving strengths and areas for growth; that a leader’s effectiveness relies on emotional intelligence; and that effective leadership development requires customization, rather than a one-size-fits-all skill-building model.
Our Fellows examine what may block them from maximizing their leadership effectiveness using the “Immunity to Change” model developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. It explores the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual domains of leadership; the contagiousness of state-of-mind and its impact on performance; and the power of presence in leadership. Each Fellow undergoes an assessment to explore the gap between how they see themselves and how others see them. They then work with a coach to set and achieve personal goals.
We take this approach because we believe that if a leader has the technical skills to do the job and she is able to operate with self-awareness, build authentic relationships and motivate staff, her team will be more engaged and more productive. Everything – and everybody – will benefit.
The business world recognizes the critical importance of investing in emotional intelligence. The Jewish nonprofit sector has an opportunity to follow suit. Let’s seize it.
Abby Saloma is a Senior Program Officer at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and directs the Schusterman Fellowship. Meet the third cohort of Schusterman Fellows!