EQ is an area I have always wanted to explore, and understand better.

Even more so when Jack Ma, Alibaba founder, told the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York in September 2017 that “If you want to be respected, you need IQ, EQ and also LQ.” “And what is LQ? The quotient of love, which machines never have.” “A machine does not have a heart, a machine does not have soul, and a machine does not have a belief. Human beings have the souls, have the belief, have the values.”

Isn’t it also true that, for business leaders to be respected, and to succeed, they need to connect to other people? They need EQ – Emotional Quotient. Andrew Colman, Professor of Psychology, describes EQ as ‘the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).’ Jessica Moore, the US lifestyle coach, observed perceptively “There are no good and bad emotions. They all bring vital messages, and are key to our emotional intelligence.”

This article is not the place to go into all the studies exploring which of IQ or EQ (and now EQ) is the more important factor in determining the strength and success of leaders. But as Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently”.

The importance of EQ in the boardroom was brought home this week when Alison Kay, Group General Counsel and Company Secretary at National Grid PLC, a FTSE20 company, spoke at the Leadership Development Programme and Networking Club* in London.

Alison emphasised how important it was for the company secretary to be able to look around the boardroom, understand what was really going on, and advise the chairman, board directors, and senior executives on a range of issues – how directors were getting on with each other, whether an approach wasn’t working and needed changing, when something was about to become an issue but hadn’t been sufficiently registered, managing the relationship between the board and the executive, and so on. All EQ-driven actions.

Alison talked about how getting into the top role could involve luck – ‘right place, right time’ – but how such luck could be engineered by taking risks; accepting new opportunities as they arrived (unexpectedly); being prepared to move out of role; following instinct; using your strengths and working to your areas for development; and never doubting your ability.

She pointed out that there would always be setbacks and pushback, but that it was in how you responded to the mistakes you made that defined you. In shades of Maya Angelou, she remarked that your colleagues won’t notice – and won’t care – about your failings, if you treat them with respect. It was necessary to trust colleagues, when asking for help. And that developing the strength and depth of the team was a critical business priority.

In no particular order, company secretaries needed to build their networks; keep abreast of developments; maintain their sense of humour; be agile; communicate to the business the importance and significance of their role, and that of the Secretariat; and be able to cope with ambiguity.

The list of requirements to succeed was long. But although the role could be ‘lonely at the top’, the rewards of having the ear of the chairman, and being able to work with the board to help it create value, were significant.

But of all the attributes which Alison mentioned, it was the reference to EQ which stood out for me. “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”, Ernest Hemingway said. Like the father and son in the image at the top of this article, listening well, recognising your own emotions and those of others, using emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and managing and/or adjusting emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s), is a set of critical skills – in our personal lives, and our professional lives.

* The Leadership Development Programme provides coaching, mentoring and Networking Club dinners to help colleagues reach the ‘next level’. It offers individuals the opportunity to develop and differentiate themselves, and their career, in a challenging professional environment.

If you would like to know more about the Programme, or the Club, please contact me on 07739 088208 and seamus@valuealpha.com.

The next dinner is on 18 September 2018 in central London. The event is full – please contact me if you would like to join the waiting list.