How emotionally intelligent are your managers?

Leaders exert a significant influence over the satisfaction and engagement of the employees that they lead (Harter, Schmidt & Hayes, 2002). A good manager can inspire and transform a workplace; while a bad manager can derail their own efforts and those of the organisation.  Signs of derailment include failure to delegate, attitude of arrogance and insensitivity, bullying and inability to adapt to change (Kaiser & Hogan, 2007).  These can lead to reduced individual and organisational performance and have a negative impact on individual health and well-being.  See our blog on workplace bullying to understand one significant outcome that poor leadership can have on workers.

Studies vary in their estimates, but Hogan & Kaiser (2005) has advised that managerial incompetence may be as high as 30-75 per cent in America.  Friday 25th June’s edition of Human Capital Online cites research that shows that at least one in nine managers in Australia are underperforming and engaging in harmful behaviours.

Increasingly, research is showing that what may be key in separating good from bad managers is Emotional Intelligence (EI).  For example, research conducted on 120 senior managers in the public sector showed significant positive associations between EI, performance review ratings and pay increases, above and beyond traditional measures including cognitive ability and personality.  Researchers from Swinburne University of Technology have found that approximately 36% of the variance in Australian leadership success appears to be accounted for by EI (Palmer, Gardner & Stough, 2003).

However, in hiring and promotion decisions this critical factor is often overlooked.

So what is EI?  EI has, confusingly, been referred to as a set of personality characteristics, behavioural responses or cognitive (intellectual) abilities.  Given the inclusion of intelligence in the title, it makes sense that the definition should be related to intellectual abilities.  A clear conceptualisation of EI is given by MacCann and Roberts (2008) who define it as one of multiple group factors of intelligence related to the processing of emotional stimuli (p. 541).

McCann and Roberts (2008) further outline four branches of emotion-related abilities:

  1. Perception and expression of emotions
  2. Integration of emotions into thoughts
  3. understanding the reactions and transition between emotions and events
  4. Management of emotions to moderate and enhance mood.

Arguably, the most important competency in the workplace is number four: Emotion management.

Imagine a situation where managers or employees were unable to manage their emotions and moderate their moods. This situation is likely to lead to derailment – arrogance, insensitivity, bullying and inability to adapt to change.  If they were to treat clients in this manner it is unlikely that they would be clients for long!

RightPeople can help you to identify those individuals who are able to handle emotional situations effectively and those who have difficulty knowing how to respond in emotional situations.

We use the Situational Test of Emotion Management (STEM) which is based on extensive empirical research undertaken by MacCann and Roberts (2008).  The STEM asks test-takers to judge the effectiveness of different strategies for handling emotional situations.  Scores on the STEM assess knowledge of how to minimise negative feelings such as sadness, anxiety, irritation and anger.

Get the edge on hiring and promotion decisions. Contact us to find out more about EI and the STEM.


Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L.  (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 268 – 279.

Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R.B. (2005). What we know about leadership. Review of General Psychology, 9, 69-180.

Kaiser, R.B., & Hogan, R. (2007). The dark side of discretion. In R. Hooijberg, J. Hunt, J. Antonakis, K. Boal, & N. Lane (Eds.), Being there even when you are not: Leading through strategy, systems and structure. Monographs in leadership and management Vol. 4 (pp. 173-193). Oxford: JAI Press.

MacCann, C., & Roberts, R.D. (2008). New paradigms for assessing Emotional Intelligence: theory and data. Emotion, 8(4), 540-551.

Palmer, B.R., Gardner, L., & Stough, C. (2003). The relationship between emotional intelligence, personality and leadership. Australian Journal of Psychology, 55, 140-145.