It’s Always the Right Time to Think About Emotional Intelligence | Mike Cook

By Mike Cook
Contributing writer

Emotional intelligence is a key component to being competent in almost every occupation today. Don’t believe it? Then see if you can quickly name five occupations that don’t involve some degree of complex conversation as a matter of business as usual. Employees and their managers will not be able to engage with their work at the levels needed today until the issue of emotional intelligence is addressed.

In virtually every management development program I have created or delivered in the past 20 years the point has been made that the greatest challenge facing managers is their limited interest in developing their own emotional intelligence.

Their second greatest challenge follows closely: understanding the emotional intelligence or needs of the people who report to them. This continues to bedevil managers, and the problems it creates continue to grow.

Business in general and the experience of being at work must be considered a contact sport. As our economy has evolved over the last 25 years the amount of contact has by necessity increased dramatically and my experience strongly suggests that the majority of people in our American workforce are not adequately prepared to participate in a game that requires significant personal initiative and interpersonal skill. For that matter, it is probably safe to say that just as many employers are not ready to participate with a highly socially intelligent workforce.

Evolution may be a catch-all phrase for how the economy has morphed over the years but one feature is worth considering: the evolutionary process generally happens outside of our standard measurements of time and changes often go unnoticed for extended periods.

Management in the American workplace is now blocking the evolutionary, what Peter Senge undoubtedly meant us all to notice when he popularized the term “unintended consequences” in his landmark work, The Fifth Discipline. Educationally and emotionally, many people in the workplace today are not prepared to deal successfully with the level of interpersonal complexity they face daily.

A quick look back may serve a purpose here. Previous economies and workplace arrangements offered the majority of people in the workforce the following:

  • a narrowly defined sets of tasks
  • high degrees of supervision
  • limited individual discretion

As the economy morphed, certain outdated aspects of that industrial economy carried over, including some unfortunate ways of thinking about management. What managers need from employees also changed dramatically. Many managers say they want more initiative, creativity and passion from those reporting to them but are not able to recognize that these traits are not simple snap on modules. This outcome begs for transformational education and management skills.

Before patting yourself on the back because you don’t fall into the category of the emotionally underdeveloped, ask your self and honestly answer these questions:

  • Am I able to participate successfully in every conversational exchange without hesitation or caution?
  • Am I able to have the conversations I really need to have with my reports so I am optimizing their development as well as their productivity?
  • Do I ever see instances where my reports “hold back” with me even though I have repeatedly encouraged them to talk to me about everything?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you were being honest and the question that remains is, What is the price you are paying in terms of:

1. Your own engagement at work
2. Your own productivity
3. The level of engagement and productivity of those you are charged with developing


Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He publishes a semi-weekly blog at and also facilitates a monthly business book reading group at Village Books.

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