Emotionally Intelligent Managers and Corporate Social Responsibility

If your lead salespeople are making the company money, and the managers of those people are able to drive sales as high as your executives projected, does it matter if those managers have emotional intelligence? Or does their ability to push their people to high sales necessarily mean they are emotionally intelligent? Most companies probably would decide it doesn’t matter whether someone is emotionally intelligent as long as the company is making money and growing. After all, a company isn’t a friend or a psychologist—it’s a provider of products and services and an employer.

A recent piece in the Huffington Post by Eric Mosley on “The Value of Humanity in the Workplace” made me consider what that value is—whether there is any monetary or pragmatic value, or whether the value is something entirely different, but just as real and important.

There’s a lot of talk today about “corporate social responsibility,” most often meaning what a company is doing to make its local and world community a better place. It could mean the company is ensuring its products are all biodegradable, a portion of its profits go to charity, or employees once or twice a year participate together in donating their time to a local nonprofit organization.

Did you ever consider that corporate social responsibility also could refer to how your company’s management, and individual managers, treat those you employ? It’s hard for me to make a profitability-oriented argument for the importance of emotionally intelligent managers, but it’s easy for me to say that charity truly starts at home, and it can be looked at as the ultimate corporate social responsibility to be aware of the emotions and well-being of your employees. It’s a charity to have that awareness because it doesn’t necessarily correspond to making more money or becoming a larger company. It’s just the decent thing to do—for the owners and leaders of a company to decide they want all the people who work for them—and even with them—to be treated in a way they would want to be treated themselves.

When my mother was dying a few years ago, I told my manager I planned to work from home on Fridays that summer because it would help me to have greater flexibility at least one day a week. He didn’t say much in response. He just kind of grunted/nodded and said something like “OK.” At the time, I just chalked up his response to him not wanting to get himself into trouble by agreeing, without higher authorization, to grant me the privilege of working from home once a week. But that conversation has come back into my mind frequently (it must have disturbed me), and I think the off-hand, seemingly grudging response probably had more to do with insensitivity and a lack of awareness of the emotional needs of others. If I were in his shoes, and with my much different personality, I probably would have said: “Of course. I know this is a hard time for you. And I know how responsible you are with your work, and that we have nothing to worry about. Just let me know how we can help you through this.” Would that have been an over-the-top response? Or would you, and the managers you work with, have said something similar?

Fast-forward a few months after my mother died, later that same year, and my manager’s 14-year-old Goldendoodle dog was dying. Without giving me, his only employee, a heads-up about his schedule, he took half the day off for at least a month to be with the dying dog. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I would have loved to spend half the day every day with my mother while she was dying.” The dark humor of my boss taking such a luxury for himself for his dying dog, and being so grudging in his response to me with my dying mother, was probably lost on him. It’s a few years later, and I’m still with the company, and still doing good work for my manager. So there was no pragmatic reason that he should have been more sensitive toward me, but should he still have shown greater empathy?

The other big question I have: Can you teach emotional intelligence, including the ability to sense and react to the emotions of others, and to sense—or at least ask—what those people need? I don’t think so. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test categorizes some people as intuitive and others as more sensory oriented, and some people as feelings oriented and others as more thinking oriented. I’m not well versed on this personality assessment, other than having taken it myself (I’m an INFJ), but if I’m an intuition-oriented person who literally “feels” out her world, and my manager clearly is a sensory-oriented person who thinks out his world, is there a possibility he could ever be as sensitive and emotionally attuned as me, and all the other intuitive-feelings people?

If you can’t train for emotional intelligence (which I don’t believe you can), then the next best thing would be to give an emotional intelligence assessment prior to hiring new employees. To me, emotional intelligence is more important than anything you might learn about a prospective new employee from a personality assessment. Who cares what the person’s personality is as long as she has an impressive work history of having done the same, or similar, work to what you will be asking her to do? But what a person’s work history, and often his references, won’t tell you, is how he achieved his past work accomplishments. As a hiring manager, or a Human Resources manager, I would want to know if prospective employees are able to achieve their goals without treating their colleagues and employees with insensitivity.

It won’t necessarily make the company financially better off to hire the more empathetic, emotionally intelligent employee, but the ability to do business without emotionally hurting others is ethically important. Isn’t that the definition of corporate social responsibility?

Does your company assess for emotional intelligence before hiring a new employee? Can emotional intelligence and empathy be cultivated? If so, what kinds of training programs could do this?