Emotional Intelligence Can Help Lead Pharma Through Tough Times

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-02-01-2021, Volume 41, Issue 2

Creating stronger relationships can set off a chain of success.

Some people might refer to the building blocks of emotional intelligence (EI) as “soft skills,” but there’s nothing soft about identifying emotions and using them to become a more effective leader. “When we talk about mathematical intelligence, we acquire mathematical data and use it to solve math problems,” says Josh Freedman, CEO of Six Seconds, a network of EI practitioners. “When we talk about emotional intelligence, we acquire emotional data needed to solve emotional challenges.”

The concept of EI strips away an authoritative approach to leadership in favor of fostering relationships and empowering employees to become partners in problem-solving. In 1995, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, wrote about how non-cognitive skills can influence success in the workplace beyond basic intelligence. He highlighted five key components of EI:

  • Self-awareness—recognizing one’s emotions and how they affect others.
  • Self-regulation—managing one’s own emotions.
  • Motivation—understanding one’s inner drive beyond money or status.
  • Empathy—comprehending others’ emotions and expressing concern.
  • Social skills—managing relationships and building networks.

According to the Harvard Business Review, EI accounts for nearly 90% of what moves people up the ladder when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar. When Sanofi decided to focus on the EI skills of its salesforce, it reportedly boosted annual performance by 12%. In 2018, McKinsey & Company projected that between 2016 and 2030, demand for social and emotional skills would grow across all industries by 26% in the US and 22% in Europe. COVID-19 almost certainly has elevated that number, as managers deal with various employee issues—from Zoom burnout to stressed-out parents. A post-COVID world that includes increased workplace flexibility will likely further heighten the need for these skills.

To engage in EI more intentionally, leaders can start by normalizing conversations about emotion and generating more substantive exchanges. Instead of mindlessly asking “how are you?” Freedman suggests inquiring “how are you dealing with all the pressures you’re facing?” Leaders also could set an emotion-sharing example by opening with “I have a lot of different feelings, and one is that I’m worried about x. Another is I’m hopeful about y. How about you?” This can set the stage for employees to open up. When faced with an issue, pausing for a few seconds to reflect on one’s own current emotions also can produce a more intentional decision.

“I used to be afraid to ask people how they were feeling,” says Freedman. “Because what would happen if they were really upset about something? I wouldn’t know what to do. In doing this work, I’ve become more comfortable that emotions are not such a big deal. Our own feelings, our employees’ feelings, our customers’ feelings, our investors’ feelings are all data, and we need to make sure that data is part of our dashboard, as leaders.”

The biggest mistake to building EI is planning a one-off training. EI requires culture-shaping and analyzing the systemic integration of practices in technical areas, such as hiring and promotion, and humanistic matters, such as how leaders act as role models.

The good news is that many EI skills are learnable. Six Seconds has found that for senior leaders, coaching is powerful, and learning to be a coach is even more powerful. One of the organization’s case studies revealed that when managers learned EI skills, their direct reports also started using them.

“In organizations where senior leaders have the vision to say they’re trying to build a people-centric culture—because they have a purpose and it’s not just about money—we’ve seen the opportunity to have this kind of culture change. Organizational leaders have a lot of data about production rates and sales cycles. But few have meaningful data about their own people.”

Leaders need to recognize that emotions carry though a pipeline that flows from conversations between senior management to middle management to reps to physicians to patients, which can make or break a healthcare decision. This is evident in today’s environment when it comes to COVID therapies and trust. “We need to be smart about that emotional part of our value chain, recognizing that emotion has currency for our brand, our business, our goal in the world,” says Freedman.

Elaine Quilici is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. She can be reached at equilici@mjhlifesciences.com.

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