- Emotional intelligence can help us build relationships based on mutual trust and solve problems in the workplace.
- Mindfulness and contemplative methodologies-based training and development can help with key leadership needs for the pandemic and post-pandemic era.
- In the new world of work, the redefinition of shared work-life spaces calls for a shift in core values, with compassion, empathy, and trust, emerging as key resources for resilience and renewal.
“Emotions” and “intelligence” were viewed as separate in the past, but in recent years researchers have been exploring the interplay between these two aspects of the psyche.
The term “emotional intelligence” was coined in a 1990 research paper by two psychology professors – John D. Mayer (from UNH) and Peter Salovey (from Yale).
Since then, emotional intelligence – EI for short – has been identified as a key leadership skill, and it frequently features in discussions around the future of work and employment.
EI can help us build relationships based on mutual trust and solve problems in the workplace. And the good news is – like other skills, it can be developed over time.
To find out more about EI and its application in today’s workplace, we caught up with professor, researcher, tech entrepreneur, Fulbright Fellow, and thought leader on Management and Social Justice, Dr. Latha Poonamallee.
Dr. Poonamallee is the Chair of the Faculty of Management and University Fellow at The New School, and the Founder of C-Suite for Justice, a community of senior executives committed to making their organizations more inclusive, just, and equitable.
She is also the co-founder of In-Med Prognostics, a global socio-tech health venture, and the founder and host of the Management and Social Justice Conversation Series.
She is listed as one of the 20 Indian women redefining leadership at the global level.
Allwork.Space: Hello Dr. Poonamallee! Firstly, how would you summarise EI in a sentence?
Dr. Poonamallee: Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately read one’s own emotions (self-awareness) and appropriately regulate or manage them in any given context (emotional self-regulation).
Allwork.Space: Is EI an innate capability or does it require “study”?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: Some of us are more or less blessed with innate emotional intelligence to different degrees but science shows that it is possible to “study” and develop emotional intelligence.
Through my decades long work, I have constructed and tested a mindfulness and contemplative approach to developing EI.
However, most competency models are based on how to alter one’s behaviors and how others perceive them and not focused on inner transformation, i.e., shifting people’s mental models using deeply transformative methods.
To do this, leadership assessment and development must focus on mapping and shifting underlying mental models towards building a better world for all rather than just getting done more efficiently.
Mindfulness and contemplative methodologies-based training and development can help with the following key leadership needs for the pandemic and post-pandemic era.
Allwork.Space: How important is EI in a work context?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: EI is definitely a differentiating feature.
A good doctor needs good skills for diagnosis and understanding of biology and science. A great doctor also needs EI to deal with patients as well as other staff such as nurses to run a successful practice.
“In the new world of work, the redefinition of shared work-life spaces calls for a shift in core values, with compassion, empathy, and trust, emerging as key resources for resilience and renewal.”
We need leaders and coworkers who are caring, emotionally and socially intelligent, and are trauma informed. It’s the key to attracting, engaging, and retaining talent. It encompasses learning to relate to a group, who for the most part look, think and act differently from those who’ve come before. A group with unique needs, wants and challenges.
It is also key to learning about finding the right organization for each of us to thrive and flourish. In the new world of work, the redefinition of shared work-life spaces calls for a shift in core values, with compassion, empathy, and trust emerging as key resources for resilience and renewal.
Allwork.Space: How can business leaders apply EI at work?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: While traditional management skills are still necessary, emotional, and social intelligence skills and more prosocial orientation are crucial for leadership success in today’s changing world.
Our organizational leaders must seriously take the ‘human’ element into consideration and be adept at dealing with the collective or mass trauma effect due to the pandemic and help organizations and their followers cultivate resilience.
Empathetic leadership has shown to be more powerful in addressing the pandemic than the 20th century hierarchical and patriarchal models of leadership.
The most important aspects of leadership are going to involve climate intelligence, sustainability orientation, emotional and social intelligence, digital fluency including virtual leadership, and health intelligence or what some refer to as health quotient.
Allwork.Space: Is it possible to teach people how to be more emotionally intelligent, and how?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: Yes, it is definitely possible. One of the challenges is that when we all knew for a long time that emotional intelligence is a critical competency, there was not much information or research on how to intentionally and mindfully develop it.
I have used mindfulness and contemplative approaches to develop these skill sets in different sets of people from undergraduate students to activists to executives.
Allwork.Space: Is there evidence of a correlation between EI and better business outcomes?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: There is a plethora of evidence in recent decades that EI positively impacts both business outcomes and individual employee satisfaction outcomes and reduces burnout and attrition.
For example, a study by Rosete and Ciarochi found that EI explains the variance in leadership effectiveness not explained by personality or IQ.
My graduate school professor and mentor, Dr. Richard Boyatzis and his team have conducted several studies that examine this phenomena and provide evidence for emotional intelligence as the hidden driver of great performance.
Allwork.Space: How does social intelligence differ from EI?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: For leadership and social contexts, EI needs to go hand in hand with social intelligence – the ability to understand others’ feelings, desires and goals (other awareness) and get things done with and through others (relationship management).
“The most important aspects of leadership are going to involve climate intelligence, sustainability orientation, emotional and social intelligence, digital fluency including virtual leadership, and health intelligence or what some refer to as health quotient.”
Allwork.Space: Can someone be emotionally intelligent in the way they relate to others, but not themselves?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: Research shows that it is close to impossible to be socially intelligent, i.e how they relate to others without self awareness or emotional self regulation.
However, individuals who are very empathetic can also be blind to boundaries and how they manage their own emotional needs. I always begin this work of compassion with self compassion.
Allwork.Space: What are some of the barriers to EI?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: I think the primary block is our own beliefs around whether EI is innate or a learned competency. When we believe that our personality or innate tendencies are fixed and not malleable, we tend to believe that we cannot learn new things.
But neuroscience research shows that we can learn new things because our brains are plastic; they are capable of developing new connections.
Another block is that of the culture in which we are embedded. For example, patriarchy has not oppressed women, it has also suppressed men’s ability to acknowledge and express their emotions. A societal or organizational culture that creates psychological safety will also encourage growth and demonstration of EI.
When we know better, we are required to do better. So sometimes people take the route of ignorance as bliss. When we are self aware, we need to be brave enough to own our greatness and face our ignorant and ignoble impulses.
Allwork.Space: Finally, in your optionion, what would the world be like if everyone exercised emotional intelligence?
Dr. Latha Poonamallee: Imagine a world without war. Imagine a world in which we are each other our brother’s keepers, a world in which we all flourish and are committed to collective well-being. However, emotional intelligence as a competency without inner transformation and genuine compassion, we are in danger of creating a world of manipulative leaders.
In her most recent book, Expansive Leadership, Dr. Poonamallee presents a novel leadership model that is relationship-based and morally expansive – countering ascendant models that are narcissistic, self-referential, and irresponsible.
“The book creates the structure for a transformative, whole person approach that considers leadership as a layered, complex phenomenon blending individual and structural transformation – direction the world needs now.”