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Equipping your organisation to be more emotionally charged

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Understanding your people’s minds and emotions is fundamental to leading. Philosopher Alain de Botton outlines the advantages of an emotionally intelligent organisation.

Could you explain the concept of an emotionally intelligent organisation?

An emotionally intelligent (EQ) organisation has a richer sense of what human beings are. EQ means nothing more than intelligence around our emotional functioning. Things such as our anxiety levels and capacity for empathy are present within our emotional functioning. To be intelligent about these things simply means being on top of them. An EQ organisation doesn’t just think a human being is a machine that arrives at the office at 9am and leaves at 6pm. It realises people have tricky emotional needs; they need to feel rewarded, to have a sense of importance among those around them. If you’re taking up 15 years of someone’s life, that’s a major commitment.

Do you think the concept of an EQ organisation is realistic and can be universally adopted?

Yes. If you can train people in things such as compliance, you can train them in anything. But often there is the view that the end of year performance review is sufficient in identifying areas for improvement. That view is very amateur; if you were flying a plane, you wouldn’t seal up the wing with Sellotape. I think we are slowly waking up to the complexity of our brains and the returns that can be expected from those who take that complexity on board.

As a leader, how would you build an EQ organisation?

You need outside help; it’s unlikely that you will be a business psychologist. Examine the organisation’s weak points and put in place cultural and practical measures; some will be micro, such as what happens in a review meeting. Leadership is hugely psychological; we need trained psychologists to deal with the trickier material in the workplace.

How can leaders attract talent?

It’s offering purpose, the sense that you are giving up your life for something important. If you’re in a sector that can communicate that, pump it out to the maximum. Salary is important, but time is more important. 

"It’s offering purpose, the sense that you are giving up your life for something important."

How would you advise business leaders to manage their own talent?


Lavish attention on them. We all want to be heard, to have our anxieties unpicked – it’s a kind of corporate love.

Will organisations ever understand how important it is for their people to be happy?


Society is moving towards sympathy for the psychological, so I can see we will be moving towards a much more psychologically intelligent office space.

How can anxiety in the workplace be addressed?


It’s about sensitivity to the cost of putting pressure on someone. It’s like driving a machine in the wrong gear, it may not break immediately, but it’s not a good idea. We still think people cannot get the best out of others unless they are terrified.

What would be your advice to an employee suffering anxiety at work?


The difficulty is that you normally have to confess your anxiety to the person who caused it, who is probably anxious themselves. We often think only the people at the bottom are anxious, but everyone is, so consider involving a neutral third party.

What are your thoughts on the ‘introverted leader’?

There are so many leadership styles that work equally well: the quiet leader, the male leader, the female leader, the leader who jokes; everything has leadership potential. It’s like parenting, there are lots of ways of doing it.To be a leader, you must set the path, but you can do this in many ways. This is the blessing of the ‘nerd’ leader that came out of Silicon Valley, these guys are un-leader like but set a path that works.

What are your tips for a leader managing someone else’s career?

Realise it’s the most important thing in their life and treat it with the seriousness it demands. Don’t assume you know everything about their career, take time to listen. And never underestimate what you can do to unleash new energy.

To read Alain de Botton's conference summary click here. 

Emily  Sexton-Brown

By Emily Sexton-Brown

Emily is the commissioning editor at Changeboard

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