The Perils of Self-Protection Whenmanagers feel vulnerable, they revert to self-defense. They skirt issues or attack others and escalate games of camou”age and deception (Argyris and Schön, 1978). Feeling inadequate, they try to hide their inadequacy. To avoid detection, they pile subterfuge on top of camou”age. This generates even more uncertainty and ambiguity and makes it dif!cult or impossible to detect errors. As a result, an organization often persists in following a course everyone privately thinks is a path to disaster. No one wants to be the one to speak the truth. Who wants to be the messenger bearing bad news?
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The result is often catastrophe, because critical information never reaches decision makers. You might think it dif!cult to ignore a major gap between what we’re doing and what we think we’re doing, but it’s not, because we get so much help from others. You can see this happening in the following conversation between Susan, a cubicle-dwelling supervisor in an insurance company, and one of her subordinates, Dale. Dale has been complaining that he’s underpaid and overquali!ed for his mail clerk job. As he regularly reminds everyone, he is a college graduate. Susan has summoned Dale to offer him a new position as an underwriting trainee.
What Susan is thinking: What Susan and Dale say:
I wonder if his education makes him feel that society owes him a living without any relationship to his abilities or productivity.
How can he be so opinionated when he doesn’t know anything about underwriting? How’s he going to come across to the people he’ll have to work with? The job requires judgment and willingness to listen.
That’s the !rst positive response I’ve heard.
We owe him a chance, but I doubt he’ll succeed. He’s got some basic problems.
Susan: We’re creating a new trainee position and want to offer it to you. The job will carry a salary increase, but let me tell you something about the job !rst.
Dale: Okay. But the salary increase has to be substantial so I can improve my standard of living. I can’t afford a car. I can’t even afford to go out on a date.
Susan: You’ll start as a trainee working with an experienced underwriter. It’s important work, because selecting the right risks is critical to our results. You’ll deal directly with our agents. How you handle them affects their willingness to place their business with us.
Dale: I’m highly educated. I can do anything I set my mind to. I could do the job of a supervisor right now. I don’t see how risk selection is that dif!cult.
Susan: Dale, we believe you’re highly intelligent. You’ll !nd you can learn many new skills working with an experienced underwriter. I’m sure many of the things you know today came from talented professors and teachers. Remember, one of the key elements in this job is your willingness to work closely with other people and to listen to their opinions.
Dale: I’m looking for something that will move me ahead. I’d like to move into the new job as soon as possible. Susan: Our thought is to move you into this position immediately. We’ll outline a training schedule for you. On-the-job and classroom, with testing at the end of each week.
Dale: Testing is no problem. I think you’ll !nd I score extremely high in anything I do.
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Dale is puzzled that no one seems to appreciate his talents. He has no clue that his actions continually back!re. He tries to impress Susan, but almost everything he says con!rms his shortcomings and makes things worse. His constant self-promotion reinforces his public persona: opinionated, defensive, and a candidate for failure. But Dale doesn’t know this because Susan doesn’t tell him. At the moment that Susan is worrying that Dale will offend colleagues by not listening to them, she tells him, “We think you’re intelligent.” Susan has good reason to doubt Dale’s ability to listen: He doesn’t seem to hear her very well. If he can’t listen to his boss, what’s the chance he’ll hear anyone else? But Susan ends the meeting still planning tomove Dale into a new position in which she expects that he’ll fail. She colludes in the likely disaster by skirting the topic of Dale’s self-defeating behavior. In protecting herself and Dale from a potentially uncomfortable encounter, Susan helps to ensure that no one learns anything.
There’s nothing unusual about the encounter between Susan and Dale—similar things happen every day in workplaces around the world. The Dales of the world dig themselves into deep holes. The Susans help them to remain oblivious as they dig. Argyris calls it “skilled incompetence”—using well-practiced skills to produce the opposite of what you intend. Dale wants Susan to recognize his talents. Instead, he strengthens her belief that he’s arrogant and naive. Susan would like Dale to recognize his limitations but unintentionally reassures him that he’s !ne as he is.
Salovey and Mayer’s Emotional Intelligence The capacity that Argyris (1962) labeled interpersonal competence harked back to Thorndike’s de!nition of social intelligence as “the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls—to act wisely in human relations” (1920, p. 228). Salovey and Mayer (1990) updated Thorndike by coining the term emotional intelligence as a label for skills that include awareness of self and others and the ability to handle emotions and relationships. Salovey and Mayer discovered that individuals who scored relatively high in the ability to perceive accurately, understand, and appraise others’ emotions could respond more “exibly to changes in their social environments and were better able to build supportive social networks (Cherniss, 2000; Salovey et al., 1999). In the early 1990s, Daniel Goleman popularized Salovey and Mayer’s work in his best-selling book Emo- tional Intelligence.
Interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are vital, because personal relationships are a central element of daily life. Many improvement efforts fail not because managers’ intentions are incorrect or insincere but because they are unable to handle the social challenges of change. Take the case of a manufacturing organization that proudly
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announced its “Put Quality First” program. A young manager was assigned to chair a quality team where she worked. Excited about an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, she and her team began eagerly. But her plant manager dropped in and out of team meetings, staying long enough to dismiss any new ideas as impractical or unworkable. The team’s enthusiasm quickly faded. The plant manager hoped to demonstrate accessi- bility and “management by walking around.” No one had the courage to tell him he was killing the initiative.
Management Best Sellers Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam, 1995)
Daniel Goleman didn’t invent the idea of emotional intelligence but he made it famous. His best- selling Emotional Intelligence focused more on children and education than on work, but it was still a hit with the business community. It was followed by articles in the Harvard Business Review and a small industry producing books, exercises, and training programs aimed at helping people improve their emotional intelligence (EI). Goleman’s basic argument is that EI, rather than intellectual abilities (or intelligence quotient, IQ), accounts for most of the variance in effectiveness among managers, particularly at the senior level.
In a sequel, Primal Leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee (2002) de!ne four dimensions of emotional intelligence. Two are internal (self-awareness and self-management), and two are external (social awareness and relationship management). Self-awareness includes awareness of one’s feelings and one’s impact on others. Self-management includes a number of positive psychological characteristics, among them emotional self-control, authenticity, adaptability, drive for achievement, initiative, and optimism. Social awareness includes empathy (attunement to the thoughts and feelings of others), organizational awareness (sensitivity to the importance of relationships and networks), and commitment to service. The fourth characteristic, relationship management, includes inspiration, in”uence, developing others, catalyzing change, managing con”ict, and teamwork.
Critics have two main complaints about Goleman’s work: They say there’s nothing new, just an updating of old ideas and common sense, and they maintain that Goleman is better at explaining why EI is important than at suggesting practical ideas for enhancing it. It is true that Goleman borrowed the EI label from Salovey and Mayer, and the idea of multiple forms of intelligence was developed earlier by Howard Gardner (1993) at Harvard and Robert J. Sternberg (1985) at Yale. The dimensions of EI in Primal Leadership (inspiration, teamwork, and so forth) could have been culled from the leadership literature of recent decades. But even if Goleman is offering old wine in new bottles, his work has found a large and receptive audience because of the way he has packaged and framed the issue. He has offered a way to think about the relative importance of intellectual and social skills, arguing that managers with high IQ but low EI are a danger to themselves and others. A growing body of research supports this proposition (Druskat, Sala and Mount, 2005).
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