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  • Writer's pictureMark O'Neil

Why Emotional Intelligence Is Essential to Healthcare Leadership

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

Most people know of, or have even obsessed over, the concept of IQ. People often assume that the higher someone’s IQ, the more innate leadership qualities they must possess. But I would argue that IQ’s lesser known sibling – EQ – is far more important in determining whether someone will make an effective leader in healthcare.

Defining emotional intelligence

Recently, I returned from the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) 2019 Congress, which was superb both in the range of topics offered and the quality of the faculty. Out of all the insights shared at the conference, the one that left the deepest imprint on me came from career services leader Michael Broscio’s session on emotional intelligence.

While precise definitions of emotional intelligence can vary, Broscio explains it as the following:

  • The ability to identify emotional and social information in oneself and in others.

  • The ability to manage emotional and social information in oneself and others.

  • The ability to focus on emotional and social connections to get things done.

Just as IQ measures intelligence as an ability to absorb information and use it to solve problems, EQ (emotional quotient) measures emotional intelligence as an ability to absorb emotional and social information and use it to solve problems. Research on EQ is still developing within leadership science, but the correlation between great leaders and high EQ is already more and more difficult to ignore.

You might be wondering: even if emotional intelligence is important as a leadership quality, surely IQ is, too. However, studies have shown otherwise. In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, authors Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves point out: “People with the highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform people with average IQs just 20% of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time.”

This isn’t necessarily surprising when we think about it in practice. If I asked you to picture someone you’ve worked with who was very smart, but found it difficult to get along with or lead other people, chances are: someone would come to mind easily.

Fostering great leaders in healthcare

When it comes to healthcare leadership, EQ becomes even more important. Most interactions that take place in a hospital or doctor’s office are very short: perhaps a few days in the hospital or a few minutes at the doctor’s (if you’re lucky). However, patients can build a positive or negative impression of those interactions just as quickly.

Patients essentially check their dignity at the door when they go to the hospital. They are poked and prodded, woken up at all hours, and fed unfamiliar food at seemingly random times. They spend their time trying to decipher the barrage of medical terminology and abbreviations tossed around. At best, it’s a stressful situation for them; at worst, it’s confusing and frightening.

To successfully guide patients through this time and be able to act as a trusted caregiver, emotional intelligence is critical. We expect our caregivers to be emotionally intelligent, so it’s only right that healthcare organizations invest in the same for the leaders they put in place.

Improving EQ over time

Fortunately, unlike IQ, people can build and hone their emotional intelligence over time to become better leaders. Bradberry and Greaves provide a framework for measuring EQ and identifying strategies to improve the four core skills that constitute emotional intelligence.

In summary, emotional intelligence is essential to high performance in all areas of business, but especially in healthcare. And, since tangible steps can be taken to measure and improve EQ, to ignore them would squander a valuable opportunity to foster great healthcare leadership. There are many tools available at little cost to promote higher EQ. The key is to identify it as a priority and then follow through.

An executive coach can be a useful asset in this process, to facilitate a new or developing leader’s measurement and growth. Unhampered by office politics or other daily priorities, executive coaches can dedicate their full attention to helping leaders boost EQ and attain their highest aspirations.

If you’d like to see the impacts for yourself, you can contact us to get a free initial consultation.

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