2nd October 2019

Higher emotional intelligence in managers is not always beneficial

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A new study has shown that managers with a high level of emotional intelligence are more likely to be unpopular and less effective than their peers.

Manchester Metropolitan University conducted the study with the EMLyon Business School in France, with researchers working alongside the NHS to ask staff to assess their managers’ level of empathy and awareness of their own and others’ emotion. The report drew the conclusion that emotional intelligence in high levels may not necessarily lead to positive outcomes.

More than 300 NHS managers reported on the extra effort they put into the job along with staff satisfaction with them, as part of the study, and how well they implemented change in the workplace.

Researchers found that high emotional intelligence led to a drop in positive outcomes, beyond an ‘optimum’ point.

Dr Sumona Mukhuty, the principal lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “In the last two decades, emotional intelligence has often been identified as a key factor ineffective leadership.

“However, our work within the NHS suggests there could be a saturation point. During a time of fundamental reorganisation within the health service, we found that managers who were rated beyond a particular threshold of emotional intelligence were not necessarily highly effective.”

Dr Mukhuty, along with Professor Nikos Bozionelos, of the EMLyon Business School, presented the study at the British Academy of Management conference in Birmingham, which attracted more than 900 delegates including management researchers, practitioners and doctoral students.

Professor Bozionelos said: “Increases in emotional intelligence beyond a moderately high level are detrimental rather than beneficial in terms of a leader’s effectiveness. Too much emotional intelligence is associated with too much empathy, which in turn may make a manager hesitant to apply measures that he or she feels will impose excessive burden or discomfort to subordinates.

“Simply considering that the more emotional intelligence the manager has, the better it is maybe an erroneous way of thinking. As well as implications for emotional intelligence and leadership theory, these findings have the potential to change future approaches to leadership training.”