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4-1 = 0, The Confusing Truth of Emotional Intelligence and Finding Good Employees

03Feb 2008

When I have the same issue repeat itself three times in one week in different settings, I reach the conclusion that I better write about the issue.

A growing issue for businesses is the challenge of finding quality employees. And, as we have discussed previously, it is currently equally difficult for individuals seeking work to find jobs which are a good match for their abilities and values.

As I shared this week with various employers, managers, and family business owners, there are four characteristics needed for a person to be successful in their career. And these characteristics are true, regardless of career level — from unskilled and skilled labor to highly educated professionals.

First, and most obvious, is technical or professional expertise. Regardless of industry type, or level of skill needed, almost every job requires some baseline ability, knowledge base, or technical ability — computer literacy, accounting/bookkeeping skills, welding ability, organizational skills, physical strength, knowledge of composite materials, etc. And this is the starting point for most position searches — can they . . . ? do they know how to . . .? have they been trained in and are competent to . . . ?

Secondly, an individual who is going to be successful in their current or future job position must be able to get along with others. I have yet to find a job (for pay) that does not have either customers, clients, co-workers, colleagues, supervisors or managers, vendors, supervisees. Every job requires at some level the ability to communicate with and get along with other people.

The third characteristic needed is the ability to manage oneself (particularly your emotions). As a psychologist and one who frequently deals with the emotional side of life, I have come to believe that we all have our own area of emotional vulnerability. For some, it is anger, or being easily frustrated. Depression (or at its less intense level, being easily discouraged) is the challenge for others. Being anxious, fearful, or worrying is a common area of struggle for many. Whatever the specific feeling category it may be, we all have to learn to manage these feelings, so that they don’t interfere with our ability to function in daily life. We have all witnessed otherwise talented individuals, who are “taken down” by their inability to manage their emotional life.

Finally, the characteristic of self-discipline and perseverance is core to being successful in one’s job and career. The ability to do the “daily grind” — to discipline yourself to do the basics of your job even when you don’t feel like it — is foundational to being productive. As I have stated before, when interviewing highly successful business people about their success, they often attribute “perseverance” as one of the central factors which led to their achievements.

Now, remember the title of this entry? “4-1 = 0” has to do with the factor that if an individual lacks any one of these four characteristics, they probably will not achieve success in their chosen career field. Let’s face it. If you don’t have the technical capabilities in your field, you won’t go far. The same is true for not getting along with others. Or if your emotions get the best of you, your success will be limited. And if you don’t persevere or have the self-discipline to do the “day-in, day-out” tasks, you typically won’t go very far.

But the real issue is this. There aren’t many “4 for 4’s” out there — and they usually are already working for someone else. So what do you do?

I believe the easiest of the four characteristics to develop is the area of technical or professional expertise. Generally speaking, I would rather take a person who: (a) gets along well with others; (b) has good emotional balance; and (c) perseveres and has self-discipline, and then train them in the technical skill or knowledge base. I believe this is far easier than trying to develop one of the other three areas.

So I am encouraging managers and employers to look for good people and then train them. It seems often applicants have some foundational skills or aptitudes, but not to the level of competency the employer is seeking. I counsel these employers to hire people of good character and then invest in training them. So far, this counsel seems to prove to be a successful approach.

Now, I am hearing the thoughts of the business owners and managers out there saying, “easier said than done.” True. How do you find good people?

First, and foremost, good employees are referred to you by trusted friends and colleagues. (Hence, my repetitive call to network.)

The second best approach is to assess for these characteristics. There are measures of emotional intelligence, but I have found them to be only marginally helpful. However, over the past four months I have been investigating and becoming familiar with an assessmetnt tool that assesses not only personality style (measures like the Myers-Briggs or DISC are ubiquitous) but also character. No assessment tool is perfect, but this instrument (called the MERIT profile) has a good research base, and I have found it to be helpful in assessing potential employees. (If you contact the company, tell them you heard about them through my blog.)

Regardless of how you find good candidates, I believe the important point is for employers to focus more of their time and attention in employee selection on the three competencies which comprise emotional intelligence (relational skills, managing your emotions, self-discipline) and accept the fact that you will probably have to teach them the specific skill set needed in the job.

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