Will using emotional intelligence improve your ability to select good managers?

I sometimes receive inquiries on how to improve their success rate for selecting good managers. Their inquiry often includes this question, “Is emotional intelligence a reliable predictor of manager success?”  The short answer is, “Yes.” Not only is emotional intelligence a good predictor of successful managers, but also for customer facing roles, as well as jobs involving negotiation, building trust and handling high levels of stress.

What about plain old intelligence and job success?

Many executives believe that the primary predictor of job performance is intelligence. IQ tests are very reliable, and they can measure retention, abstract reasoning and verbal fluency. But, their predictability for job success is very limited. The research shows that using intelligence alone (as measured by IQ or surrogate measures, such as GPA) has a .25 correlation with job success.[i]  Used alone, IQ can lead to terrible hiring decisions! I recommend that companies think of IQ as a basic hurdle for job hiring, but not the end all, be all, for job success.

Human resources professionals over the past several decades have turned to personality tests to try and pick up the slack for IQ. One of the best personality tests is the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI). It has proven to be an effective predictor of job performance for many different jobs, such as management, customer service, hospital administrators and police officers.[ii]  I have personally found HPI to be an excellent tool for coaching managers on leadership style.

Personality tests have had mixed results, however, leading to debates about their effectiveness.[iii]  Some researchers are supportive, while others say that their predictability is unreliable. Most recently, there is a growing concern that the test taker can fake their answers to gain higher scores.

Along came emotional intelligence

In 1990, Peter Salovey and John Mayer proposed a new intelligence, emotional intelligence, which is “The ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.[iv] Emotional intelligence is defined as having three main branches:

  1. Appraisal and expression of emotion
  2. Regulation of expression
  3. Utilization of emotion

Peter Salovey and John Mayer explain that there is nothing wrong with having negative emotions, after all it is part of being human. What is critically important, however, is the component of personal growth and using all emotions intelligently.

Our understanding of emotional intelligence leapt forward with the publishing of Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.[v] After an exhaustive survey of the empirical research and collecting many case histories, Goleman asserts that the higher a person’s position in an organization, the more emotional intelligence matters. Emotional intelligence is what distinguishes star performers from the average performer, and it is critical for successful leadership. He also asserts that emotional intelligence can be learned.

Other researchers have found that emotional intelligence has predictive validity for leadership roles and professions that involve negotiation, building trust and working with stress.[vi]  There are assessments for emotional intelligence. I have personally found them helpful for coaching managers. Many companies shy away from emotional intelligence assessments for selection due to the cost and legal risk of doing so, and like any selection assessment, they need to be validated for the role.

So how do you select for emotional intelligence if you are not going to test for it?

The answer is to create a structured interview that includes emotional intelligence questions. Following are some sample questions that can help determine if the interviewee has an understanding of themselves, their emotions and how to effectively use them:

  1. Please tell me about your development areas, and what you are doing to improve them?
  2. What was the biggest failure of your career, and what did you learn from it?
  3. Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a peer, and what you did to resolve it?

While EI will improve your ability to select the best candidates for leadership roles, however, great selection processes should include other selection procedures, such as structured interviews based on job competencies and job knowledge, and work sampling, to further improve probability of success.

Have you used emotional intelligence in job screening?  What has been your experience?

Victor Assad is a strategic human resources consultant and executive coach who works with key decision makers and human resources leaders on talent management, accelerating change, leadership development, and other strategic initiatives, such as mergers and acquisitions, strategy implementation, and flexible workplace.

[i] Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter. (1988) “The Validity and Utility of selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings.” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 124, No. 2, 276-274. Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-2909/98/.

[ii] Hogan Assessments, Hogan Personality Inventor: Overview Guide, http://www.hoganassessments.com/sites/default/files/assessments/pdf/HPI_Brochure.pdf

[iii] Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter. (1988) “The Validity and Utility of selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings.” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 124, No. 2, 276-274. Copyright 1998 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0033-2909/98/.

[iv] Peter Salovey and John Mayer, (1990) Emotional Intelligence. Found at http://www.unh.edu/emotional_intelligence/EIAssets/EmotionalIntelligenceProper/EI1990%20Emotional%20Intelligence.pdf

[v] Daniel Goleman (1998) Working with Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Dell, division of Random House, Inc. New York. Reissued in October, 2006.

[vi] Ernest H. O’Boyle Jr. et.al. (2011) “The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis,” The Journal of Organizational Behavior. 32, 788-818.

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