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The importance of being “emotional”

Emotional intelligence vital in personal & business performance.

The importance of being emotional

When the pandemic was at its height, it took an especially taxing toll on staff in the health sector – and Kirsten Stone, CEO of Rotorua Primary Health Services Ltd (RAPHS), decided to do something about it.

She had undertaken a University of Auckland Business School emotional intelligence leadership course for her own professional development some time ago (“Emotional Intelligence: The Foundations of Exceptional Leadership”). She knew the time was right for her weary and beleaguered teams to be armed with skills to help them in such a high-pressure environment.

All their daily interactions were with equally stressed sector stakeholders and “the last 18 months have been incredibly stressful in health. I knew aspects of emotional intelligence relate strongly to personal self-awareness, resilience and techniques to communicate effectively with everyone”.

RAPHS is Rotorua’s Primary Health Organisation (PHO) – managing a range of clinical programmes for the community and supporting member providers and partner organisations. They work closely with healthcare teams, covering about 75,000 people in the Rotorua city and rural areas.​

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognising and influencing the emotions of those around you. While IQ and technical skills are important, emotional intelligence distinguishes outstanding from ineffective leadership at all levels. A lack of emotional intelligence contributes to issues like low staff engagement, high turnover and (in the health sector) lesser outcomes for patients and communities.

“I was really impressed with the course when I did it,” Stone says. “I also have a really strong view that every staff member is a leader and that every interaction between individuals is an opportunity to positively influence someone or something.

“You know, when the pandemic was at its height, we heard a lot about ‘be kind’ – but I would actually say this course helps us understand what ‘kind’ means and how what we say and do can, unwittingly, be perceived as unkind.”

Stone says the biggest benefit for her was exposure to tools to employ empathy with her peers – being able to understand their experiences and relate them to her own. From a RAPHS perspective, she says the Business School’s ability to bring the course to their Rotorua base was a real boon at a time when few people wanted to travel anywhere.

“It was a great success,” she says. “Our people enjoyed it and took the skills into their teams and began practicing them – and they are keen to do it again. They saw that good people can come together and can misunderstand each other, causing tension and difficulties – and that we are all part of the solution.”

The other key, Stone says, was that her 45-strong team did the course together and the shared learning worked well. There was a lot of inter-personal dynamics and self-assessment and people “buddying up” together.

“I really have to commend the Business School for the sensitive and empathetic way they do this,” she says. “”There can be a lot of apprehension re personal exposure for some people – but the course facilitator preserved everyone’s dignity in a way that was so empathetic and inspiring.”

Dr Peter Blyde, the programme facilitator, Executive and Professional Development, says: “I admire the willingness of a CEO to invest in their own development and then create the opportunity for other leaders. It can be challenging to free up capacity to invest in development, particularly in health, and I appreciated RAPHS’s willingness to be open with one another and their eagerness to learn to make an even bigger difference to their staff and the communities they serve.”

Noah Ghebremichael, Senior Manager of the Business School’s Executive and Professional Development, says the RAPHS course was customised, based on three topics: self-awareness, self-management and social awareness.

Participants complete an individual online assessment that addresses risks and enablers to their personal resilience, he says, with the workshop focused on developing their self-awareness, their resilience and self-confidence, and their empathy.

Self-awareness is primarily a set of habits that close the gap between how you see your own strengths and weaknesses and how others experience you – and is also the extent to which you recognise your own emotions and the effect they have on others and their team’s performance. Research (by Dr Tasha Eurich) has shown that 95 per cent of people think they are self-aware, but only 10-15 per cent actually are.

“So that can pose problems for employees,” says Ghebremichael. “Working with colleagues who aren’t self-aware can affect a team’s success and lead to increased stress and decreased motivation. So, to bring out the best in others, you first need to bring out the best in yourself, which is where self-awareness comes in.”

Self-management focuses on managing your own thoughts, feelings and impulses so that you can bring the best version of yourself to more situations, more often, and more quickly. Blyde says: “Many people are driving with the handbrake on … so from the outside looking in, the performance is looking great but that performance is coming with a tremendous amount of internal wear and tear. The focus of self-management is to help people take their internal handbrakes off.”

Social awareness describes the ability to recognise the emotions of others and dynamics in play within an organisation – empathy with which leaders strive to understand their colleagues’ feelings and perspectives, allowing them to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

6 December 2022