Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #3
March 09, 2022
<This is post 3 in a multi-post series about EI and leadership taken from my book Beyond Agile. Check out Post 1 and Post 2 first if you have not seen them. In this article, we will dive into personal growth and the power of discovering the space between stimulus and response.>
EI’s origins - Mayer and Salovey Four-Branch Model
The precursor to Goleman’s EQ and Bar-On’s EQ-i models was created by John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who published their research in 1990. The Mayer and Salovey model extends the maturing idea we looked at in post #2 and adds layers of sophistication. It is called the Four-Branch model because it describes four branches of emotional skills, going down the table vertically in terms of sophistication and maturity, and moving from left to right horizontally as a timeline from childhood to adulthood.
In the Mayer and Salovey Four-Branch model shown in figure 5.4, we start, at the top left, as children with the first and most simple of the emotional skills: Perception, Appraisal, and Expression of Emotion. This first box describes being able to identify our feelings and thoughts. Are we mad, glad, or sad, for instance? Moving from left to right in the same row, we see the next step in our development is recognizing emotions in other people, artwork, etc. Moving to the right highlights skills that come with age; moving downward, we see more sophisticated and complex processes.
The second branch, Emotional Facilitation of Thinking, describes how emotions relate to thoughts and problem-solving approaches.
The third branch, Understanding and Analyzing Emotions; Employing Emotional intelligence, describes the stages of linking emotions to events, other emotions, and common patterns and chains.
The fourth and most complex process branch is Reflective Regulation of Emotions to Promote Emotional and Intellectual Growth. This branch deals with developing our skills to detach reactions from emotions and choose how we want to respond to them. It also covers the understanding of how to manage the emotions of ourselves and others without denying or exaggerating them.
It is this fourth branch that people often need help with. It involves first realizing that there is a space between a stimulus and our response where we can choose how we want to respond. This capacity seems unique to humans; poke a bear with a stick and it will get angry every time. What makes us different is that we can choose to respond with anger or some other emotion. Learning that we have a choice in how we respond to stimuli is an important step in managing our own emotions. When people on our teams see that we do not turn into a grouchy bear whenever they deliver unwelcome news, they will be more willing to come tell us.
While receiving bad news does not immediately sound appealing, it is better than the alternative, which is having people avoid telling you bad news. To be responsible team leads, project leads, or department leads, we need to understand all the issues to have a complete picture and then start to address the issues.
Thinking about the word “responsible” can help us see the gap in which we choose our response. The word responsible is composed of “response” and “able”, meaning we are able to choose how we respond. If you are responsible for project outcomes or project teams, you should be able to choose how you respond to stimuli—both good and bad.
Viktor Frankl, a doctor and survivor of the Second World War’s German concentration camps, found a way to manage the horrors of these camps that sent many people into depression and despair. He wrote about this stimulus-to-response gap in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He describes a difference between animals and humans in their ability to choose how they respond to a stimulus: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
FIGURE 5.6 Animal vs. Human Stimulus-Response
Martyn Newman, author of Emotional Capitalists: The Ultimate Guide to Developing Emotional Intelligence for Leaders, describes the importance of seeing and acting on the gap like: “After more than a quarter of a century studying how people make the best choices, seize opportunities, generate lasting motivation, maintain energetic mood states and develop resilience to adversity and stress… most of it depends on how much self-efficacy you possess… your ability to exercise control over your own behavior and over events that affect your life.”
The bottom row of the Four-Branch model, Regulation of Emotions to Promote Growth, is where we need to be to become effective leaders and coworkers. That is our end goal. Now we will explore the EQ models of Goleman and Bar-On to see how we get there.
There is a progression for organizational and project success that goes from physical, to intellectual, and finally to emotional. We need the right physical infrastructure (tools, parts, equipment), people with the right skills (intellectual), then the right culture and attitude (EQ). High performance only occurs when we have the infrastructure, smarts, and culture in place.
High Performance = physical infrastructure + right skills + right culture and attitude
As a project leader, you will inspire or demoralize others first by how effectively you manage your own emotions and second by how well you bring energy to the goal and renew the energy of the people you lead.
Let us start by understanding the EQ model at a high level and then drill down into the individual components and elements. Shown in figure 5.7 is a composite EQ model that takes elements from several popular EQ models.
Figure 5.7 shows three main components of EI: Outlook and Resilience, how we approach life, deal with stress, and view the world. With Self, how we perceive and manage ourselves; With Others, how we build and maintain mutually satisfying relationships; and
FIGURE 5.7 EQ Model 1
Some Warnings and Limitations About EI
I have deliberately spent a good chunk of time talking about EI since I believe it is the single largest opportunity for people to increase their effectiveness and usefulness. All too often we see talent go to waste because smart, skilled workers are afraid to contribute their true potential, or alienate their peers, or fail to learn how to collaborate. Learning how to fix this in ourselves and then help others is a critical skill. However, it is a complex science that should come with some warnings.
EI deals with people skills that often defy scrutiny and classification. People are complex, changing entities and our behaviors rarely fit neatly into boxes and categories. The models presented here (and in any coverage of EQ) are just models, thinking tools. Do not obsess too much on whether something should be categorized as self-regard or assertiveness—just remember the general principles.
EQ is difficult to measure and while there are lots of assessments available, scores will likely vary from test to test and day to day. Think of it like your resting heart rate: it will vary from day to day and that is fine. You are looking for general trends over time, not spot measurements.
Some critics of EI argue that it is not really an intelligence and should be relabeled as a skill. I think this is probably a fair criticism and it aligns with initial ideas about the term needing a rebranding. Calling it a skill might encourage more people to study what it is and how to improve it rather than assuming we somehow are given a finite supply as with cognitive intelligence.
Finally, the self-reporting nature of many EQ assessments makes them susceptible to faking or unconscious influence. Once you know the traits you are supposed to exhibit, it is difficult to avoid gravitating toward those answers when you see them. Again, the advice is not to get hung up on the models. Read them to get the ideas, then apply them in your own way. As with assessments of agility, if we get too caught up in trying to measure the outputs, we lose sight of the mindset and values that really dictate the outcomes. Focus on the ideas; do not fall into the trap of obsessing on terms or trying to measure emotions with rulers and weigh scales.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the structure that underpins our character and perspective. The good news is that we can develop it throughout our lifetime, and it is a better determiner of success than cognitive intelligence (IQ). Our ability to choose how we respond to stress comes from our EQ. So too does our capacity to empathize with, work with, and influence others. These traits form the bedrock of leadership.
Given this significance, it is unfortunate many people are put off by the emotional component of the title, assuming the topic is too intangible or fickle for serious study and application. The issue is further muddied by the proliferation of EQ models, even from the same sources. Luckily, the following posts synthesize these multiple models into a single consistent framework described in project team terms.
Now we have a good grounding in the origins of emotional intelligence along with its benefits and limitations we are ready to gain skills we can use with our teams. Stay tuned for the next article.
<To read more about EI and its relationship to effective leadership look out for the remaining posts in this series, or get the book Beyond Agile for the complete picture and supporting detail.>