On the heels of last month's post on a possible further component of emotional intelligence (EI), the Academy of Management Perspectives has just published a review of how EI relates to leadership. Is EI the primary driver of effective leadership? Or is evidence of its relevance to leadership “non-existent”?
A team of authors led by Frank Walter of the University of Groningen step in to arbitrate, reviewing past research as three distinct streams, an idea introduced by Catherine Ashkanasy and Neal Daus in 2005. The first stream contains research using standardised tests to measure employee's emotional such as emotion perception. Research within the second uses a rating method to make its measurements, trusting that we can accurately judge these abilities in ourselves or others. The third uses a broader definition, popular due to its power to predict work outcomes, but criticised as “including almost everything except cognitive ability”, which is less useful when we're trying to differentiate components of leadership.
The authors argue that by differentiating the streams we better detect when a case for a particular phenomena is supported by converging evidence – agreement across different streams. And such converging evidence exists for leadership effectiveness, examined through outcomes including higher effort, satisfaction, performance and profit creation within the team managed; all three streams agree on a role for EI. Similarly, there is a general consensus that EI relates to leadership emergence, the degree to which someone can manifest as a leader in situations where they lack formal authority.
The three-streams view also helps expose where evidence is gappy, as it is for specific leadership behaviours and styles. Can EI predict transformational leadership, a charismatic, visionary style that stimulates its followers? Definitely, if we consider streams two and three. But the stream one, hard ability EI evidence is thinner on the ground. For other leadership styles, such as the laissez-faire leader, the evidence is also unclear. For Walter and his colleagues, the jury is definitely out, as they believe that data from stream one is the best foundation for understanding what incremental value EI gives over and above other factors like personality.
The authors conclude that there is encouraging evidence that EI is a useful construct for understanding leadership, but warn that “the pattern of findings reported in the published literature suggests that EI does not unequivocally benefit leadership across all work situations.” They call for more stream one evidence, and insist there is a need to consistently control for both personality and cognitive ability, a step taken in only a single study reviewed.
Finally, the Digest HQ welcome their entreaty that “incorporating EI in leadership education, training, and development should proceed on strictly evidence-based grounds, and it should not come at the expense of other equally or even more important leadership antecedents.”
Happily, the review is freely available to access from the site of Michael Cole, one of its authors.
Frank H. Walter, Michael S. Cole, & Ronald H. Humphrey (2011). Article: Emotional Intelligence: Sine Qua Non of Leadership or Folderol? Academy of Management Perspectives, 25 (1), 45-59