We are in the midst of an LD process with a number of leaders. In a recent conversation on emotional intelligence, we put forth that all decisions involve emotion and that growing our own EI is foundational to effective leadership that drives positive business results and people development. In most conversations with leaders about EI, the discussion goes to its applicability. “How is this EI stuff going to help me in my job tomorrow?” “Why do I need to bother with this?”
Some new recent provides yet another answer to these questions. Strategy (and strategic thinking) and execution are two important and connected leadership tasks. These two kinds of thinking rely on social-emotional reasoning as much as cognitive function. This is especially true for those most adept at strategic thinking. In a study by Gilkey, Caceda, and Clinton (Harvard Business Review, September 2010), the authors write:
“In a recent study we conducted with Diana Robertson and Andrew Bate of the Wharton School, we asked managers in an executive MBA program to react to fictional strategic and tactical management dilemmas and measured their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. Instead of simply identifying which parts of the brain “lit up” in response to particular tasks, we looked at how the brain regions were interacting.
The area of the brain people tend to associate with strategic thought is the prefrontal cortex, known for its role in executive function. It allows humans to engage in anticipation, pattern recognition, probability assessment, risk appraisal, and abstract thinking. Those abilities do help managers solve problems. However, when we examined the best strategic performers in our sample, we found significantly less neural activity in the prefrontal cortex than in the areas associated with “gut” responses, empathy, and emotional intelligence (that is, the insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the superior temporal sulcus). In other words, the conscious executive function was downplayed—while regions associated with unconscious emotion processing operated more freely.
Of course, IQ-based reasoning is valuable in both strategic and tactical thinking—but itʼs clear that managers integrate their brain processes as they become better strategists. When companies realize that, they may approach strategy and execution more holistically.”
Why bother with EI? Being able to understand and manage our emotions enables us to interact with others more effectively. We accept that even if we don’t see that as an immediate business application. The research of Gilkey, Cadeda, and Clinton suggests that growing our EI can positively impact our capacity for strategic thinking and execution. That’s an application most business leaders can understand and get behind.
When Emotional Reasoning Trumps IQ by Roderick Gilkey, Ricardo Caceda, and Clinton Kilts (HBR, SEPT