Emotional intelligence, CEOs and psychopathic tendencies

Angry boss

A tendency towards psychopathy and a shortage of emotional intelligence are common ingredients of the modern CEO. But boosting EQ could greatly improve leadership performance says Andrew Moore, chief operating officer of DAV Management

Do CEOs lack emotional intelligence? A Radio 4 panel discussion on the topic of psychopathic tendencies  recently suggested one of the largest occupations in this category is the CEO.

Since then, no business management publication seems complete without reference to recent research placing CEOs at the top of the list of those displaying psychopathic tendencies in professional life.

Other top-10 psychopathic professions include lawyers, salespeople, surgeons, television and radio personalities, journalists and, rather counter-intuitively, members of the clergy. Quite an eclectic mix.

That’s not to suggest CEOs are axe-wielding murderers, but rather that they display characteristics in line with the clinical diagnosis of a psychopath – superficial charm, lacking in empathy, remorse or guilt, manipulative, inflated sense of self-worth and a tendency to boredom.

The shallow emotional range is linked to poor emotional intelligence – an inability to understand, control or express one’s emotions or be receptive to those of others. Not exactly a winning combination when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

Why emotional intelligence declines as you ascend the ladder

A LinkedIn article, ‘Why leaders lack emotional intelligence’, the author reveals research which suggests that levels of emotional intelligence tend to plummet once you get beyond middle management, due in part to the pressures heaped on senior leaders, but also the lack of interaction many have with staff around them.

There’s no shortage of help and advice for CEOs, so perhaps the question is: when top management is tasked with achieving more with less and more quickly, is there a case for CEOs who can provide motivational leadership that draws the very best out of people?

As John Quincy Adams, the sixth US President, once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. And if they don’t, you’re not.

Back in 2009 we published ‘The Forgotten Human Factor’ in which we argued for more effective leadership to help organisations break free from the crippling effects of the financial crises.

Disappointingly, the proliferation of articles on the same subject since then suggests little has changed and, if anything, it’s got worse.

My colleague, Charlie Mayes, recently wrote about what he refers to as ‘management by osmosis’, where some business leaders believe that simply announcing a change initiative is sufficient for it to happen.

But loading pressure to ‘just get it done’ onto already overloaded people will lead nowhere, except perhaps to an increase in the number of failed new programmes.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to have highly motivated and productive teams. To achieve this takes real leadership, of the type that stimulates people to put in hours of high-quality work to deliver a strategic goal.

However it’s dressed up, the alternative is to just muddle through – something that we see a lot – and this is no way to deliver change.

Also, leaders today are still largely fixated on short-term thinking. The primary consideration for many is cost, rather than value – something that is often detrimental in the long run.

So how can organisations achieve a shift in mindset? One solution could be to look more widely when recruiting for top positions.

For example, more non-finance leaders in the office of the CEO may elicit a positive outlook, heralding the arrival of a more creative and innovative mindset to balance the obvious need for financial control.

Emotional intelligence is crucial in all leadership roles and is the key to getting the best out of people. Leaders with a higher Emotional Quotient (EQ) will automatically foster a greater level of connectedness with their teams, creating the right culture for improved performance.

Those exhibiting psychopathic tendencies might grab the headlines, but the focus has to be on developing genuine leadership capabilities that inspire people to reach higher.

Helping leaders to develop their EQ and engage with staff more effectively will pay dividends.

About author

Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore is COO of independent change management consultancy DAV Management

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