Second That Emotion

INNOVATION – John Cooper, CEO of JCA Global discusses how emotional intelligence plays a part in leadership recruitment.

The current era of disruptive market forces has created a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment. These challenges increase the need for Emotional Intelligence (EI) in order to cope and thrive in contemporary organisations.

Resilience, empowerment and transformational leadership are all products of EI and it is usually only when faced with real adversity that we understand just how resilient and emotionally intelligent leaders are – or not as the case may be. While many leaders can cope with extreme amounts of stress and pressure, everyone has a breaking point.

This presents a challenge for recruiters. It is not enough to simply predict job performance. They must also provide insight into how candidates will ‘show up’ – particularly under pressure – and identify the risk factors that may derail performance.

The consequences for getting it wrong are serious:

• Studies show that as many as 12 per cent of new recruits leave within the first year and 46 per cent within the first 18 months. (i)

• When asked, 69 per cent of employees had been affected by a bad hire in the preceding 12 months. (ii)

• With the average cost to fill a senior manager role estimated at anything from £6,000 to £30,000, the impact on the bottom line of a bad management hire can be significant. (iii)

The value of Emotional Intelligence

Organisations that lack EI may see rigid or defensive behaviour in their people, poor team working, low levels of personal resilience and reoccurring emotional outbursts.

Organisations high in EI benefit from more engaged employees and leaders, staff who are more able to adapt and cope with change, better team working, collaboration and innovation.

EI unlocks leadership potential and creates sustainable leadership. Working at a deeper level of mindset and emotions, leaders gain significant personal insight into their potential to become the leader they want to be – evolving their strengths and using their experiences to define their personal leadership vision.

Science has shown that feeling precedes thought and behaviour. The business evidence is clear. Taking emotion out of work does not increase employee engagement, drive customer satisfaction or build high performance. Managing emotion effectively at work does.

Identifying defensive behaviours

There is always a level of risk in recruitment, but sometimes recruitment is more risky than others. For example when looking to fill a leadership position, recruiters need to ascertain potential defensive or rigid behaviours.

This is where using an EI profile during recruitment is invaluable. It allows recruiters to identify a candidate’s level of EI, and more importantly gain insight to the individual’s defensive habits. These are negative attitudes or behaviours which may cause them to underperform or perform at their worst, when under stress. This identifies potential risks to explore with further interview questions which can align to the particular job profile that is being filled, as well as areas for future personal and career development.

The leadership climate

As well as leaders being personally aware of their EI research has shown that the behaviour of leaders significantly influences the emotional climate and effectiveness of groups within an organisation(iv).

This is where it becomes important to measure the perceptions of behaviour from the leaders themselves and compare these insights against feedback from line managers, peers, direct reports and others. This helps identify blind spots in behaviour and to give an understanding of current performance and an accurate picture of a leader’s strengths, as well as areas of development.

When assessing leadership climate, there are four cluster behaviours and 12 individual scales. These are grouped into two red areas, which are negative behaviours, and two green areas, which are positive behaviours. 

1. The red Controlling quadrant indicates the negative behaviours and attitudes in terms of how Competitive, Aggressive and Demanding they are. These behaviours can be effective in the short-term for mobilising people’s energy, but if used habitually can erode trust and instil fear and defensiveness. 

2. The red Withdrawing quadrant includes how Avoidant, Dependent and Rigid leaders are seen to be. Leaders who exhibit this behaviour may detach themselves from people and issues.

3. The green Inspiring behaviours are Visioning, Stretching and Encouraging. Leaders in this zone generate a positive climate where people feel inspired, motivated and challenged to perform at their best.

4. Leaders who are Including demonstrate positive behaviours of how Collaborative, Trusted and Appreciative they are. They generate trust, loyalty and commitment and build emotional capital that can be drawn on to sustain performance and maintain resilience in the face of pressure.

Resilience in leadership

A global survey of CEOs (v) found that 72 per cent believe that the next three years will be more critical than the last 50 years, but that only five per cent feel capable to deal with this level of disruption. This places enormous emotional pressure and stress on leaders.

The ability for leaders to be resilient is now incredibly important in terms of mental health and wellbeing so leaders can sustain performance in the face of adversity, as well as thrive personally and professionally. The term resilience is ‘the ability to recover from negative life experiences and become stronger while overcoming them’ (vi).

Recruiters need to understand how a potential leader will react at different stages of facing adversity. The Thrive Cycle of Resilience (vii) has four stages: Survive, Adapt, Recover and Thrive. These are all drawn from different scales of Emotional Intelligence.

Survive is about how leaders initially respond to adversity. It is their capacity to remain calm, think clearly and act appropriately when under stress. Of course, there will be times that leaders will respond negatively with emotional outbursts, self-criticism, ill-health or just giving up. This stage is usually temporary and leaders will learn to adapt to the situation.

The next stage is Adapt. At this point leaders will halt any personal decline, adjust to the change and prevent things from getting worse. This requires leaders to pay attention to their own feelings, reactions and behaviours and the impact that they’re having on other people. It often requires leaders to move out of their comfort zone and draw on support from other people.

The third stage is Recover when leaders begin to bounce back from adversity, usually to the point before the set-back. This requires them to take responsibility for themselves and actively find solutions, set clear objectives and have the self-belief and determination to make this happen.

The final stage is Thrive. This means that a leader grows and becomes more resilient. It’s about them learning and growing stronger and wiser. This requires them to have the ability to reflect and learn from past experiences, build trusting and supportive relationships and to behave consistently in accordance with their values and principles in life.

By understanding a leader’s EI you can get insight in to the climate that they can and will create within organisations and their personal resilience. Then recruiters can be assured that they will be recruiting leadership with enough EI to be an inspiring leader and develop employee engagement to effectively navigate the rough with the smooth.

Low EI Leader

  • Less awareness of personality, emotions or attitudes and how these influence own and other’s behaviour.
  • Behaviour is often reactive and rigid – may rely on technical expertise, hierarchical power or ‘doing’. Doesn’t see the options – blames others and maintains a rigid status quo.
  • Focuses on tasks rather than people and relationships – may avoid giving feedback, resolving conflict or showing recognition, or leaves a trail of destruction.
  • Too busy working harder to get off the treadmill, think differently or learn – leading to burn-out in self and disengagement of team members.

High EI Leader

  • Aware of how personality, emotions and attitudes influence behaviour. Chooses positive attitudes and manages emotion.
  • Focus on people and relationships – listens, provides honest and sensitive feedback, recognises contributions, tackles conflict easily and appropriately.
  • Cycles between concentrated effort and renewal.
  • Takes action to plan and think strategically.
  • Looks after self physically – leading to sustainable high performance and engagement.


(i) Adapt to survive, PWC, 2014 and Why new hires fail, Murphy, Leadership IQ Blog, 2016.
(ii) Survey of 2494 employers, 2012
(iii) Resourcing and Talent Planning Survey Report, CIPD, 2017 and The Cost of Brain Drain, Oxford Economics, 2014.
(iv) Ketner et all., 1994; Momeni, 2009
(vi) Henderson, N., and Milstein, M.M. (1996). Management of organizational behavior: Utilizing human resources (5th edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
(vii) The JCA Global Thrive Cycle of resilience. Available through the Emotional Intelligence Resilience report