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Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a highly contentious topic within the business world. Some advocates of the concept of EI claim that it accounts for up to 90% of variance between top performing management and average-performing management (Goleman, 2000). However, the debate of EI among academics remains more controversial. For instance, Locke (2005) argued that EI is invalid because it is not a form of ‘intelligence’ and has such an inconsistent definition (p. 425). Similarly, Antonakis (2003) argues that the data analysis within the literature is unreliable and lacking validity (p. 359). Nonetheless, the matter is still frequently researched and new evidence is still emerging today in an attempt to resolve the debate and determine whether emotional intelligence really can determine the efficacy of leaders. This essay argues that EI is an important area to investigate and develop further to understand the alleged implications for management.

Much debate exists in the literature regarding the definition of EI, and the research methods developed to measure it. Many scholars have varying opinions and views on what EI represents. It is not a “new” concept by any means. Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) are noted as the first theorists of EI, describing it as “the accurate appraisal and expression of emotions in oneself and others and the regulation of emotions in a way that enhances living” (p. 772). Over the years, the definition of EI has transformed and expanded and is also described as the superior ability of some individuals to process information about emotions and contextual stimuli, and to use this information to guide their thoughts and behaviour for productive purposes (Oatley, 2004; Krishnakumar, Hokpins, Szmerekovsky & Robinson, 2016). However, there are academics who have described EI as an unsubstantiated misrepresentation, and nothing more than a new ‘fad’ for pre-existing concepts – personality and intelligence (Locke, 2005; Antonakis, 2004).

At present, there is no widely accepted test of EI, rather there are two main methodologies applied – self-report methods and ability-based methods. Mayer, Salovey and Caruso (1999) are credited as the first to develop questionnaires to measure the construct of EI in the United States, while Dulewicz and Higgs (2000) are believed to be the first to develop a similar instrument in Europe (Dulewicz & Higgs, 2003). Self-assessment reports require the individual to rate their own or others’ behaviour in a social context (Walter, Cole & Humphrey, 2011). To test EI in this way is efficient and easily disseminated (Walter et al., 2011). The Wong and Law Emotional Intelligence Scale (WLEIS) is an example of a self-report test that assess respondents on the following criteria: self-emotional appraisal, others’ emotional appraisal, regulation of emotion and use of emotion (Kong, 2017). However, self-report methods have been argued to be ineffective, as the results only represent the respondents’ perceptions of their EI, rather than their actual capabilities (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 1999; Brackett, Rivers, Shiffman, Lerner, & Salovey, 2006). Another method to measure one’s EI is an ability-based model. The Mayer-Solvey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is an example of an ability-based test that is designed to measure one’s emotional intelligence. It measures the participant’s ability to perceive emotions, facilitate thought, understand emotions and manage emotions (Mayer, Salovey & Caruso, 2012). This particular method is strongly debated with some scholars believing that the MSCEIT and similar tests reflect personality traits, or produce insignificant results (Antonakis, 2004), while others maintain that ability-based methods are better able to counter ‘socially desirable responding’ (Walter et al., 2011). Higgs and Aitken (2003) reason that the cause of criticism regarding the legitimacy of EI testing, is because in the 30 years since the term was first coined, little substantiated evidence has been published within credible sources (Higgs & Aitken, 2003, p. 814). This confirms that testing for EI still needs further development.

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The need for effective management is seen to be quintessential to the sustainability and long-term success of businesses in today’s climate, constantly faced with change and innovation. “Leadership is the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of a vision or set of goals. Organisations need strong leadership and strong management for optimal effectiveness” (Robbins, Judge, Millet, & Boyle, 2017, p. 288). There is ample research that indicates intelligence and certain personality traits (such as extroversion and conscientiousness) of leaders are linked to leadership efficacy (Robbins et al., 2017; Rosete & Carriochi, 2005). Several academics also propose that emotional intelligence is an indicative measure of leadership effectiveness (Prati, Douglas, Ferris, Ammeter, & Buckley, 2003; Rosete & Carriochi, 2005, Goleman, 2000). For example, the emotional responses and associated behaviours of managers have been found to influence employee emotional reactions. Thus, employee job performance benefits from positive emotions but suffers from negative displays of emotions (Dulewicz & Higgs, 2003). Leaders who can accurately recognise and comprehend the emotions of members within their work teams should be better equipped to formulate more successful emotional outcomes, according to Mayer, Salovey and Caruso (2002). The regulation and management of one’s emotions is also a strong predictor of task performance (for some jobs) and organisational citizenship behaviours (Robbins et al., 2017. p. 119).

However, there is still much speculation and doubt, concerning the legitimacy of these claims, as their research deign models have been disputed for lacking “methodologically defensible scientific criteria”, required for conducting and objectively evaluating research (Antonakis, 2004; Locke, 2005). Locke (2005) and similarly, Antonakis (2004), also dispute the findings on the basis that previous attempts to highlight the significance of EI in an industrial setting are indicative of constructs that are already well established within the literature – cognitive intelligence (IQ) and the Big Five personality traits. Nevertheless, newer research, from 2018, has emerged that further supports the earlier claims from Mayer and Salovey (1990), Prati et al. (2003) and Rosete and Carriochi (2005) that emotional intelligence does have a high correlation with leadership effectiveness. Edelman and Knippenberg’s (2018) investigation concludes that leaders with high levels of EI are indeed more effective, even when their research methodology included controls for cognitive intelligence and Big Five Personality Traits, since being identified as a major design flaw (p. 603). As was the case with the Cardiac and Vascular unit at NYU Langone Medical Centre when they experienced a 30% increase in patient volume, whilst redefining the roles of staff members and implementing new processes to transition to a specialist unit. The staff members were resistant to the changes at first, however, within one year all organisational goals were met and staff and patient satisfaction was improved (Foltin & Keller, 2012, p. 21). The key to the success of NYU Langone Medical Centre was attributed to the high emotional intelligence of the leaders within the organisation, whilst still acknowledging the roles of cognitive intelligence and business savvy, which highlights the importance of EI within businesses.

Given that EI can predict the future success of management and has been linked to successful business outcomes, even though it should not be used as a determining factor alone, it is no surprise that there is an increasing interest in how one can develop their own EI. It is also a potential focus for managerial development programs (Edelman & Knippenberg, 2018, p. 592). Goleman (2000) suggests expanding one’s EI can be achieved at any age. He also explains that 360-degree appraisals are a useful tool to do so. These evaluations are important in providing objective feedback from the perspective of work colleagues within close proximity of the individual, to highlight any discrepancies between the beliefs of the individual and the observations of those nearby (Perks, 2008, p. 42) Edelman and Knippenberg’s (2018) evidence suggests that ability-based tests (e.g. the MSCEIT) could be implemented during the recruitment process for leadership roles. For this reason, it is important that the research into EI continues to be advanced.

It is agreed among both advocates and critics that EI is not without limitations and further research and testing of EI is needed to validate to potential application within human resource management. When the evidence is reviewed as a whole, there are convincing arguments from each side, although ultimately, given the latest research to be revealed, it is clear to see that EI does play a pivotal role in leadership efficiency. More work needs to be done to develop future applications of the concept, but when utilised correctly within organisations, is already resulting in optimistic outcomes for all involved.

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