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Developing emotional intelligence: a challenge for 21st-century education

In many organizations with a strong hierarchical culture, we place a premium on the deep insights and reflective learning of our most senior leaders. In these organizations it makes a lot of sense in conventional times to value their insights above all others.

It would be normal in this kind of organization when faced with a challenge or problem, for the leader to think deeply and reflect upon his experience and come up with a design for a strategy that will lead the organization to success.

This kind of leader would typically assemble his staff and asked them specific questions for information he believed he would need in order to made the best decision possible. His staff would normally then go out to find the answers to these few questions and report back quickly with the required information.

Receiving the required information, the leader would then integrate these into his plan and produce the final solution and the organization would proceed into the execution phase of operations.

Under conditions of uncertainty however, the strategy for information gathering is not sufficient area when the world is so dynamic that the long and colorful history of the leader no longer applies to the uncertain future, then his deep insights actually are harmful to the cause.

Senior leaders in conditions of uncertainty must therefore actively encourage their staff to provide their deep insights which are developed from a close working relationship with the world. This later must set aside his seniority and generate the conditions whereby a team-based approach to learning and problem solving can be applied.

The more entrenched the hierarchy has been in the culture, the harder it will be for the leader to create those conditions. He must set aside his high rank and become emotionally vulnerable by revealing the limits of his knowledge and encouraging his subordinates to speak out especially when their ideas are different than his.

This form of emotional intelligence is not a natural condition for senior leaders to have developed in a hierarchical culture and makes the need for leader education in the new way all the more important as we look forward to an increasingly uncertain and dynamic future.

  1. August 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    As a coach of emotional intelligence – for leaders, professionals, and interested others, I concur. EQ can matter more than IQ … and it can be learned. All great leaders have high emotional intelligence.

  2. Terry Lesniak
    August 4, 2009 at 10:02 am

    An interesting example of the “limits of individual knowledge” and the naivete of looking at lofty goals without understanding the consequences of the “process” involved to reach those goals, made me think of Gorbachev’s question to Margaret Thatcher when he asked her how she managed to feed her people? Her response was, she didn’t…price did that.

  3. Terry Lesniak
    August 4, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Have you read Sowell’s, “Knowledge and Decisions”? If you haven’t, I think you will find it particularly interesting.


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