Leadership Symposium - The importance of emotional intelligence

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The inaugural Leadership Symposium event at Wembley Stadium took place earlier this month, focused on emotional intelligence.

December saw the inaugural Leadership Symposium take place at Wembley Stadium to raise funds for the GroceryAid and WorkingOptions charities. Some of the UK’s foremost business and sports leaders gave their views on leadership and how to achieve great teams. One of the strongest messages of the day was about the importance of emotional intelligence.

The event featured an impressive line-up of guest speakers who covered the following topics:

  • Champions are developed – talent alone is not enough. You can’t coach or lead what you can’t measure – so collect the data!
    Sir Clive Woodward OBE
  • Organisations with greater diversity yield greater financial performance – harness emotional intelligence and confidence when returning to work.
    Fiona Dawson, Global President, Food, Drinks, and Multisales – Mars
  • You are what you hire – develop the culture you want.
    Richard Baker, Chairman – Whitbread, DFS, Aimia, Non-exec Director – LTA

Sir Clive Woodward kicked off with his insight into what makes a champion. He described how great teams are made up of great individuals and how, as a leader, the key is to improve every individual in the team including yourself.

When creating a winning team, having talented individuals is not enough, champions are created through a combination of certain characteristics and effective coaching.

The talented individual needs also to be a 'student' with a high level of trainability and a thirst for knowledge – they need to act like a sponge and not a rock. On top of this they need to be able to perform and think rationally under pressure, and furthermore have the will and attitude to become a champion.

Perhaps underlying all of this is a degree of emotional intelligence that is required to meet thesuie conditions. A high level of adaptability could be what is needed to act like a sponge and be open to new ways of doing things. High levels of emotion regulation, stress management and impulse control are often needed to be able to perform under pressure. By effectively managing emotion when faced with tense situations, it is easier to keep a clear head and achieve maximal performance. Finally, a can-do attitude, willpower and desire to succeed can result from high self-motivation and resilience. These ideas are well-aligned with data trends identified through Thomas International’s research which has found significantly higher levels of particular facets of emotional intelligence in senior leaders. Sir Clive also emphasised the critical significance of using data and IT in order to gain a new perspective and a competitive edge, stating that you can’t coach or lead what you can’t measure and whoever wins in IT tends to win overall.

If organisations measure constructs such as emotional intelligence in their employees through psychometric assessments, they are able to identify trends in top performers and subsequently create benchmark criteria with which they can map prospective candidates that are aligned to their desired organisational culture.

The topic of emotional intelligence was presented again by Fiona Dawson, Global President of Mars Food. When discussing women in business, Fiona appealed to people to harness their EI. She spoke about the importance of confidence when returning to work and how this can help in overcoming imposter syndrome (the sense of not deserving to be in the position you’re in).

Organisations with a more diverse workforce have been shown to financially outperform those with lower gender and ethnic diversity.

Characteristics of emotional intelligence such as self-esteem and optimism play an important role in allowing women returning to work to better navigate the social and emotional demands presented upon their return. Self-awareness and self-evaluation based on empirical measurements are the crucial first steps in establishing a framework on which to develop these characteristics.

Richard Baker, chairman of Whitbread, DFS, Aimia, former CEO of Boots, and non-exec director of the LTA, reinforced the importance of attitude in the workplace and when hiring in order to produce a winning culture that is disciplined, professional and principled, but also open and non-hierarchical. In order to achieve the desired culture Richard proposed that “you are what you hire”, when combined with Sir Clive’s point that you can’t coach or lead what you can’t measure, what emerges is the importance of capturing data on traits such as emotional intelligence.

Through technology and data driven evaluations, individuals, teams and organisations can flourish.

Overall, the afternoon gave a fascinating insight into the perception of leadership in both business and sport in the UK. In particular, it provided an affirmation that the results of Thomas International's research were as true in person as on paper. Emotional intellligence really is a key factor in unlocking the leader within.

At Thomas, we are conducting innovative research into characteristics of leadership behaviours. If you would like to contribute to our ongoing research, please click here to complete a brief survey.

Keith Wishart

Keith Wishart

As International MD, Keith is accountable for Thomas’ global functions and international partners. With 30 years of experience in blue chip companies, Keith was looking for a new challenge and joined Thomas in 2016. Originally from Liverpool, Keith plays a variety of sports and presents a weekly radio show on Marlow FM.