How a leader’s EQ declines the more senior they become

Watching the performance of this country’s Prime Minister go from bad to worse to a surely-it-can’t-be-happening level of terrible has been one of the lowlights of my summer break. Political blogger, Andrew Street summarises the whole mess as well as anybody in his post from earlier this week; Let’s Be Honest, Scott Morrison is a Terrible Prime Minister.

Mr Morrison’s complete inability to read the mood of the nation seems inexplicable. How could a person who has been able to successfully manoeuvre his way into parliament, be promoted to Cabinet, then win the endorsement of his party and coalition colleagues to become Prime Minister and then pull off an unexpected election victory, be so ditheringly incompetent in dealing with the most-recent range of issues impacting day-to-day Australians, namely the bushfires and the Sports Rorts scandal.

Based on recent research it appears that Mr Morrison’s lack of emotional intelligence may be more the rule than the exception when it comes to senior leaders.

A July 2019 World Economic Forum post Why do CEOs have such low scores in emotional intelligence? validates the common experience of many employees that the higher up the organisational ladder the more likely you are to find delusional a’holes occupying a corner office with decision-making powers misaligned to their competence.

As the report’s author, Dr Travis Bradberry, notes:

We found that EQ scores climb with titles from the bottom of the corporate ladder upward toward middle management. Middle managers stand out with the highest EQ scores in the workplace because companies tend to promote people into these positions who are level-headed and good with people. The assumption here is that a manager with a high EQ is someone for whom people will want to work. 

But things change drastically as you move beyond middle management. 

For the titles of director and above, scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace.

Dr Bradberry explains why often the wrong person is promoted to lead, or lead higher up the food chain:

The higher you go above middle management, the more companies focus on metrics to make hiring and promotion decisions. While these short-term, bottom-line indicators are important, it’s shortsighted to make someone a senior leader because of recent monetary achievements.

Possibly worse than metrics, companies also promote leaders for their knowledge and tenure, rather than their skill in inspiring others to excel. 

Dr Bradberry goes onto explain how emotional intelligence erodes the larger the leadership responsibility a person takes on:

They spend less time in meaningful interactions with their staff and lose sight of how their emotional states impact those around them. 

The stereotype of an organisatioinal leader being a ‘person of action’ actively impedes the growth of their emotional intelligence. In their hurry to ‘make things happen’ or ‘get results on the board’ the ineffective leader minimises, dismisses or ignores the spoken and unspoken questions, concerns or doubts that employees may have.

As the author asserts:

People who fail to acknowledge other people’s feelings fail to realize that lingering emotions inhibit effective action. 

By validating their emotions, you’ll help them feel understood so that they can move forward without hindrance.

Here’s a few of the most common phrases uttered by Mr Morrison in response to legitimate questions and concerns raised by journalists, bloggers and others who are in a position to question him directly.

“That’s a question from the Canberra bubble”, “I don’t care what people on Twitter think”, “I have already answered that question” (when he hasn’t) and “That’s an old issue, I am not going to go over history” (regardless of the recency or relevance of the matter at hand).

Our Prime Minister has, so far, failed to acknowledge the anger, frustration and disrespect that many in the volunteer sports administration community feel at the way in which their diligent efforts to apply for grants were treated. Mr Morrison is acting as if these, perfectly understandable, feelings are irrelevant.

This inept performance was right on the heels of a similar disastrous Prime Ministerial response to the suffering of many bushfire-affected communities.

Effective leadership training programs develop from the recognition that a person develops as a leader from a sound foundation of self-awareness.

Dr Bradberry writes “……if you’re like the average executive, your weakest self-awareness skills are “understanding how your emotions impact others” and “recognizing the role you have played in creating difficult circumstances.”

If our Prime Minister wants to win back any vestige of respect as our country’s leader he would do well to heed Dr Bradberry’s wise words.

 

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The future of leadership: effective collaboration

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1 Comment

  1. Phil Preston on 29/01/2020 at 8:54 pm

    Very timely and insightful piece Ross! As you point out, self awareness is non existent, consistent with someone who is good at knocking things down but not so good at building them up.

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