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Using emotions as allies

Published on Thursday, 12 May 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: EQ and Leadership in Asia
Author: Sebastien Henry
Publisher: Jossey-Bass

Emotional quotient (EQ) and its sibling emotional intelligence (EI) are very much in vogue among researchers and consultants keen to identify the factors that set successful leaders apart.

The basic premise is that as organisations evolve and employee expectations change, executives at every level must do more to understand what makes individuals tick and why. They can then apply these lessons in implementing both day-to-day management decisions and longer-term policy goals, with tangible benefits in terms of team building, engagement and ongoing corporate results.

Giving his take on the subject EQ and Leadership in Asia, Sebastien Henry sets himself three specific objectives. His aim is to give a clear yet concise overview of the subject, explaining in particular why it matters in Asia. He wants to show the essential concepts that allow leaders to form stronger relationships with team members and colleagues. And he provides a series of tools and practice techniques for using emotions as "resources" and for dealing with typical challenges likely to come up in the workplace.

To do this, Henry divides the book into two distinct sections. The first supplies context, theory and key principles, highlighting the increasing acceptance of EI, since the mid-1990s, as an important facet of business leadership.

Tackling one common misconception, the author makes it plain that EI is not about being "nice, sweet and spineless". Rather, it is a matter of being sensitive to other people's beliefs and emotions, and having empathy. As leaders will know, this does not preclude the need, at times, to be "enforcing, sharp and even fierce when the situation demands".

As a framework for learning, Henry focuses on one simple but widely recognised model for developing one's own emotional intelligence. This comes from the work of Daniel Goleman, an acknowledged pioneer in the field and the person credited with promoting EI concepts beyond academic circles to a wider business audience.

The model identifies four dimensions which are inter-related, so working on one automatically has an impact on the others. Two of these - self-awareness and self-management - concern our own emotions, while social awareness and relationship management relate to dealings with our circle of contacts in all its diversity.

Henry's main point is that by taking the right steps it is possible to improve EI which, for leaders, will bring more personal effectiveness and a consistently better level of performance from those they manage.

"I believe [emotional intelligence] is even more crucial in Asia where emotions tend to be hidden beneath the surface of daily business interactions," he writes. "Emotions are precious assets for a leader when wisely used, and become a source of disruption if ignored." Therefore, the second part of the roughly 190-page book explains in more detail how to use emotions as allies in facing practical leadership challenges. The examples, advice and dialogues draw on Henry's experience as a regional manager in Asia with a multinational firm and since 2005, as an executive coach and trainer.

He stresses that in any work environment, an executive with well-developed EI will ultimately find it easier to motivate staff, create engagement, avoid or resolve conflict, and lead their team into the "high-performance zone".

"There is often a significant gap between the level of performance that a team could potentially achieve and what it is actually achieving," Henry says. "Facilitating genuine and appropriate emotional expression in your team is one of the greatest ways to bridge this gap."

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