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May 2014

Emotional Intelligence and Educating People

Emotional intelligence is certainly a breakthrough concept of the last twenty years or so; it helps explain why so many high IQ or highly intelligent people make spectacularly bad decisions and crash. Further, it also gives us a new agenda and language that can be used to help all managers and teachers and coaches develop their people. But having said that, teaching it is one thing; living it is another.

Teachers, employers/managers, coaches need not only to 'teach', but more compellingly, to walk the talk. Emotional intelligence, as the name implies, is something that is felt before it is understood – we feel, for example, that somebody cares for us and this renders us pliable, even desirous, to learn from them.

I am always amazed by stories of teachers who seem not to have the first idea about 'how' to teach - and this 'how' is intimately connected with emotional intelligence. Similarly, we talk of empathy and what it does in the commercial world; the flipside of what it does is described by Demming in his account of kaisen: namely, it drives out fear. When you drive out fear, people really can learn at the deepest level; but in saying this we have to concede that most schools, like most institutions, like most authorities, derive their legitimacy by creating fear. Hence, the spectacle of all the failed initiatives in recent years – target (and so fear-) driven - which inevitably achieve the opposite effect of what was intended. The UK National Curriculum is a case in point - twenty years of fear-driven 'learning' - which has failed to deliver and which now is dismantled.

But this is equally true in business: create a culture of fear, even fear around emotional intelligence, and the result is failure - if not some other unintended or debilitating consequence. There is when we come to the root of this issue a vexed problem.  I can state it like this: I am in the personal development game because I passionately believe people can change, can improve, can achieve more and get more from their lives. Why do I believe that? Well, for one reason, I believe it of myself: I can change! I have changed, and this is for the good. And I know that learning from others, training and teaching and coaching and mentoring, are all good avenues to this outcome. But that said, it does not seem to be true that training people on these emotional elements is always or inevitably successful. Indeed, like leadership itself, some people experience all the training in the world, have PhDs in emotional intelligence and yet seem incapable of holding a simple conversation with anybody without alienating them at a profound level. Why is this?

Probably it is to do with self-esteem and an early grief that has never been resolved or forgotten, such that all future encounters are filtered through this initial negativity. But the real learning point of all this is to remember at all times what the busy world we are in wants us to forget: namely, that being qualified as a teacher, or a coach, or a manager, is no guarantee that we have those emotional skills we are presumed to have by reason of our role. Indeed, and bleakly, there is every reason to suspect that those who are drawn to such qualifications are precisely those who lack that necessary emotional strength. The question then is: has the training helped them become that new person they want to be? How will we know? That’s something to think about, isn’t it?