Good to Great Leadership

Boyatzis book

Dr. Relly Nadler: I’m excited that we’re going to have with us, Dr. Boyatzis, an expert in the field for a long time and has written numerous books as I mentioned, Resonant Leadership, also The Competent Manager. He has been a President of the Hay Group, a consulting firm and he really has been a founder in this field for a long time so I’m really excited to hear his expertise around emotional intelligence, a little bit around the history and some of the specific questions that I want to ask him, for example, “how can the listeners raise their emotional intelligence and what are some of the things that they can do to be a star, to be in the top 10%?”

I’m also very interested to go through some of the questions I have and find out just what’s most important, what some of his current research is these days, and to learn from him some things we can use focusing on being the best leaders we can be.

Dr. Relly Nadler:  We now have Dr. Richard Boyatzis here with us. Dr. Boyatzis can you give us a little history about emotional intelligence, where it started, your affiliation with Daniel Goleman, with the Hay Group, and David McClelland, which I think are really the roots of emotional intelligence.

Dr. Richard Boyatzis: Thanks, Relly. Thank you for having me on the program. The research from our perspective, those of us who do the stuff that’s a little more behavioral on this and in terms of the current research, I did the first competency model, as it’s called that, in 1970 for Navy Supervisory Chaplains.

At the time, I was working for this small research consulting group that David McClelland had founded and one of his doctoral students and teaching with him. Dan and I, by the way, were graduate students together at Harvard. We were both involved in McClelland’s work as well as partied together. At the time, when I started doing the competency studies, the first ones, it started with building off of an idea that McClelland and a few others had in their book, Talent and Society, in 1958, in proposing that in people’s search for what talent is, one had to look for a broader spectrum than just cognitive ability or G. Over the years, in the late 60s, we’d been doing a lot of research in motives and style and all that, so it made sense to go after these other more elusive characteristics, at the time, we said, “Let’s call competencies, because they are as you know as a psychologist, traits and abilities, but they also have behavioral manifestations.

Now what separates them from skills? Well, they’re not that simplistic. They have an unconscious intent embedded in them and that’s what helps to organize them. Well, the group that I was working with, McBer, as I finished my doctorate in ’72 to ’73 and then started working full-time doing this research, this competency framework of looking at the outstanding performers in the job, the average and poor performers, and going in and testing them started to take on, catch on. By the early 70s, the US Navy and Marine Corps said, “Let’s go after this in a big way.”

Then other companies that were early adopters picked it up. General Electric, Digital Equipment and many others. By the middle to late 70s, we were doing a few dozen of these competency studies a year for different organizations and basically, it was you pick a job or role, whether it’s CEO or Sales Manager or Systems Programmer; you figure out what the performance measure indicators are, which are never the performance appraisal because that’s somewhat of a suspect issue in the research. Then once you get the performance measures, you sort out distribution of the folks and in the early days, we went to extreme case design so we picked the outstanding performers and the average performers, randomly picked, and then went in and tested them.

By ’72 and ’75, actually Lyle Spencer reminds me that we invented the technique on my dining room table in my apartment, we started the interviewing, the “Behavioral Event Interview” which was really a genesis of the questions in the “TAT”, the Thematic Apperception Test, which Dave McClelland is famous for and all of us were using in our research, and work from Biohistory that Chuck Daly, who is on our staff at that time, a former professor for Dartmouth, was doing a lot with. We kind of merged the two and took Flanagan’s original critical incident technique and turned it into an interview protocol that would inductively find out what these people did, thought, and felt. It works fabulously. We were getting much higher validation results than in typical personality testing and all that.

By the amalgamation, by the time ’79 came around, we started to have so many of these studies that we were seeing patterns in these findings. My 1982 book, “The Competent Manager,” which as I understand it was the first empirical study to ever be published linking competencies or even skills to job performance across management in different samples. You had the AT&T studies by Dr. Bray that was within one company. Then you had studies that were published in various journals and they usually have that one characteristic, but nobody looked at the composite set of all of these different things before that.

Since my book came out in ’82, there have been a number of others. Some are small sample ones like Cotters, The General Managers. Others are larger sample ones like Luthans’, “The Real Managers” in ’88. Others are more meta-analytic that didn’t go back to the raw data like Spencer and Spencer in ’93 or Dan Goleman’s “Working With Emotional Intelligence” in ’98. Those are meta-analytic. They sat and look at the results from other studies. In ’82, I went back to the raw data and re-analyzed it and then presented it. So, what we had coming out of that is a very, very strong set of findings that said even though there are organization to organization and industry to industry and sector to sector and the not for profit to for profit public sector et cetera, the difference is, you start to see a pattern emerging. Any time you look at a particular job, whether it’s CEO or like I said, Architecture System Programmer, you find about 15 to 18 to 20 characteristics that statistically differentiate the outstanding from the average performers.

In most of those, managerial, executive, leadership, and professional jobs, there were two cognitive abilities that always came out, systems thinking and pattern recognition. The others had to do with how people manage themselves and other people.  There was always a cluster around achievement, orientation, adaptability, self-confidence, emotional self-control, which is what we now call emotional intelligence; and then there was always a cluster around empathy or interpersonal sensitivity, team building, developing others, influence, communications, that is a cluster around how you build relationships.

So when Dan Goleman was writing for The New York Times; well, when he first finished his degree, we still worked together and he worked on some projects with me and with David at McBer. Then we he was writing for Psychology today and later The New York Times, he used to call us regularly and say, “Okay, what are you guys finding lately?” We’d tell him the results from those studies which we had permission to release publicly and then for the ones that we didn’t have permission from the separate clients when we would do these composite analysis, we could talk about it. So as we continued to do basic research and applied research and start to write it up and publish it, you know, we used to keep Dan posted and he would start to write about it.

Dr. Relly Nadler: It’s interesting because I know he seemed like he kind of stumbled on this concept but it sounds like you had some major influence.

Dr. Richard Boyatzis:  Yah, I think if you asked him he’d say most of the—not the physiological side of it, but on the psychological and behavioral side of it, most of the work that he used as his foundational work was the stuff we were doing at McBer, and that I was doing.

Dr. Relly Nadler: And so that was really the root of the 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence”.

Dr. Richard Boyatzis: One of the things that Dan has always been good at is he takes very, very, intricate stuff from very disparate fields and synthesizes it in a way which really makes a lot of sense. Then on top of this theoretical contribution, he makes a magnificent emotional contribution by making it accessible because he’s such a good writer and communicator. One of the things he was doing during the late 80s was he was synthesizing what he was reading. He did his doctoral dissertation on brainwaves of people who are meditating versus others who don’t. He was always fascinated by the psycho physiological even with the spiritual dimension that he had into it.

Among other things, when people asked me in the late 90s, “what’s the story with emotional intelligence as an old wine in new bottles?”  I’d say, in part it is. In part it’s a repackaging, relabeling of stuff we’ve been doing for 35 years. But in part, it’s also a synthesis with moving right down into the neurological and endocrine aspects of how a person functions. The synthesis was first begun by Dan’s ability to get to know these people and help them see what they didn’t even know. Joseph LeDoux, who did the landmark study in ’86 showing it took 8 milliseconds for a neural circuit to get from the thalamus to the amygdala and 40 seconds to get to the neocortex which meant that we feel before we think. This was a landmark study.

I was at a small session that we have of a research group, The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence and Organizations, and we had Joe come in and present and he said, “You know, I didn’t know till Dan started writing about it, that that is what I’d found.” He said, “I was studying, you know, kind of transmission issues and cellular relationships and all of that.”

Listen to the entire interview above.


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