What’s Your Leadership DQ? by Patricia Pope

We all know what IQ is, and accept that, generally speaking, those in management and leadership positions have a reasonably high one or they wouldn’t have made it to where they are. In recent years, we’ve also become familiar with the term EI, or Emotional Intelligence, also been referred to as EQ. Through extensive research by Daniel Goleman and others, research has shown that the higher one goes in an organization, the more important EQ becomes. It’s considered to be at least three times as important as IQ and technical skill combined, and according to Goleman, accounts for 85-90% of the success of organizational leaders.

In his book Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1997), Goleman created four discreet categories for better understanding the elements of EI:  Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management. Given the reality of changing demographics in the United States and the increasingly global/international nature of business, it’s important to begin thinking of EQ within the context of DQ, as in, “What’s your Diversity Intelligence?”

As the sheer number and complexity of differences increase and most organizations find that they are being asked to do more with less, work relationships have become more critical than ever before. As a result, it’s important to expand our thinking about the four elements of EQ to recognize the importance of diversity relative to each of them. How self-aware are leaders who have given little thought to the stereotypical notions of others that they have learned as a normal part of our socialization process, and internalized to some degree?  How can they “manage” their internalized stereotypes if they aren’t even aware of them or are denying their existence?  Similarly, if they have spent little time understanding the realities of those different from themselves, they are likely to struggle with both social awareness and relationship management.

Consider research conducted by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves in their book, The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book (Foreside, 2005). Over the previous decade, they tested more than half a million people and found that a mere 36% were able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen. Even more disturbing were their specific findings about managers. According to their research, middle managers score highest in terms of EQ. However, those at more senior levels had scores that “descend faster than a skier on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest emotional intelligence scores.”

As we continue our transition to becoming a knowledge economy, we are becoming increasingly dependent on our human capital. The organizations that will continue to prosper in the future will be those that link their people strategies directly to their business goals and objectives, and who also recognize that people today are different in a number of ways, and those differences must be taken into account.

There seems to be much more recognition of the need to be able to understand and interact effectively with people differences when organizations are doing business with those from other countries. Not surprisingly, this appears to be an area that many U.S. corporations are struggling with. Ernest Gundling, author of Working GlobeSmart (Davies-Black, 2003) began his book by saying, “The single greatest cause of difficulties in global business transactions is not a lack of technical expertise, hard work, or good intentions – it is a lack of people skills for relating successfully with counterparts from other countries and cultures.”  Frankly, this should not come as a big surprise. Diversity has traditionally been treated as a separate silo and not integrated into training programs designed to increase team effectiveness, leadership development and supervisor/management skills. If we aren’t effectively dealing with all of the human differences that exist here in the U.S., chances are we’ll be even more ineffective when working in another country in a culture markedly different from our own. For some managers and executives, the opportunity to work in another country can cause a breakthrough experience in understanding the importance of differences and their desire to increase their social intelligence. For others, an international assignment is a miserable experience and their performance is mediocre at best.

If we look at emotional intelligence (EQ) within the broader context of diversity (DQ) for leaders in the U.S., we would see this:

  • Self-Awareness: Leaders recognize their beliefs about others that can unintentionally cause them to behave in disrespectful or exclusionary ways.

They know where their personal challenges are in terms of dealing with differences (race/ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious, socioeconomic/educational, etc.).

  • Social Awareness: Leaders understand the realities and challenges of others different from themselves and the impact that individual and institutional bias has on those who are experiencing it. They understand the subtle dynamics and barriers that inhibit individual performance and teamwork.
  • Self-Management: Leaders accept ownership for managing their biases. They hold themselves accountable. They can articulate the specific skills they need to work on in order increase their effectiveness with those different from them.
  • Relationship Management: Leaders have acquired skills to build relationships of mutual trust and respect across diverse interfaces. They accept the responsibility for creating an inclusive culture, removing subtle barriers that prevent employees from performing to their fullest potential, and hold others accountable for doing the same.

If you believe your DQ represents a development opportunity but are unsure of where to start, ask yourself questions that can provide introspection and consider some of the suggested actions. Does your organization say it values diversity, yet requires a high level of conformity in order to have a successful career?  While there’s a certain amount of socialization that most will experience when joining a new organization, ask yourself, “How much of me have I had to give up in order to be a part of this organization, and is it different for others?

Initiate conversations with employees from diverse backgrounds (individually or in small groups) and invite them to share how they perceive that conformity is rewarded. A great question is to simply ask, “Please tell me what life is like for you in this organization, given who you are.” To get candid responses, it’s necessary to create a safe environment for the discussion. Set the tone by first sharing your desire to learn, and how much you appreciate their willingness to increase your awareness and understanding by being open with you. Acknowledge that this may require them to take a leap of faith and may feel risky to them. How you respond to what you hear will also be extremely important. Pay attention to your emotional reactions as you’re listening. That’s how we increase our self-awareness.

Although the demands of our positions often dictate who we must spend time with, most of us have some discretionary time, and tend to invest it with those we’ve made a conscious effort to develop/mentor. Ask yourself, “How much energy do I put into developing relationships with others, especially people who are different than me?”  You also can begin to observe or ask your peers and direct reports who they’re informally mentoring. Do your observations and the responses you get from others suggest that those from diverse backgrounds are getting the same opportunities for informal development and coaching?

Work-sponsored social functions are perceived by many as an important vehicle for developing relationships and for networking. Ask yourself, “How often do I notice the demographics of the group in these situations?  If those from diverse backgrounds tend not to attend these events, why not?  What could I learn about them or about our environment if I asked these questions?”

When given negative performance feedback about someone from a diverse background, ask, “Do I merely accept the information or ask additional questions to determine to what degree this individual’s performance may be affected by subtle barriers in the environment?”  It’s also important to examine the quality of the relationship between the “poor performer” and his/her immediate manager. If we don’t ask about it, we’re only focusing on the individual and may not see what is really causing the performance problem. A lot of valuable talent tends to be lost because we don’t.

While our cognitive abilities (basic intelligence) are basically determined at birth, the good news is that it’s never too late to learn when it comes to increasing our EQ and DQ. In fact, it’s a life-long journey.