Friday, 5 February 2010

Mind the Gap – Where emotional intelligence rules

Anyone who’s been on London’s Underground will have heard the world famous warning for passengers. “Mind the Gap” was introduced in 1969 to warn passengers about the space between the train carriage and the platform. Just like passengers in a hurry or who think they know best run the risk of falling between the two, businesses need to maintain conscious awareness of the very real and tangible gap existing between their strategy and desire to achieve effective operational change.

Business Strategies are specific when it comes to the organisation's mission, vision and objectives; Direction is clear, ROI specified, and growth expectations and market share targets listed to support both. Now the challenge starts. This beautifully constructed well thought out strategy must be turned into operational reality and if the strategy is one that sees the business moving through previously uncharted waters, there will be the inevitable changes along the way to operational practises.

What's all this got to do with emotional intelligence?

In order to successfully translate the strategy, disseminate it through to operations and minimise the pain experienced during times of change, leadership is paramount. In his book “High Flyers – Developing the next generation of leaders”, Morgan W. McCall, Jr talks about linking business strategy and executive development. He suggests an “organisations ability to achieve strategic objectives will depend in large part on the leadership ability of executive leaders.” This makes perfect sense but what makes an effective leader and how can they reduce this very real gap?

Really good quality effective leaders are generally recognised as those who have developed a high degree of emotional intelligence. William Tate references emotional intelligence in his book “The Search for Leadership – An Organisational Perspective” when he discusses the two halves of organisation life. I’ve referred to William Tate in previous posts and will continue to do so because I see how his ‘Systems Thinking’ approach will transform leadership within organisations. His discussion about the two halves of organisation life sees him refer to what he calls the rational half and the non-rational half. The rational side holds all those elements we fully expect to be associated with a business and its strategy: Strategic plans, Directives, Job Titles, Policies, Organisation Charts, etc. These are if you like, tangible things you can physically touch or at least see pinned up on a wall somewhere; they are documents and diagrams that are reference points along with targets that can be measured as time progresses. Then there’s the non-rational half, which is where I firmly believe much more can be achieved at a much faster rate, particularly during times of change. These non-rational factors form the heart of an organisation and are where the gold nuggets are to be found: trust, friendship, power, culture, ambition, fears and insecurities, the corridor conversation and grapevine etc.

These non-rational factors are more implicit and concern the “who” rather than the “how”. It’s these things that effective leaders really understand and act upon. They are tuned-in to emotions, feelings, behaviours and motivations in both themselves and those around them. They can answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ question, which is just one of many employees ask when they’re expected to buy-in to the strategy, work for the good of the company and achieve the objectives set to maximise the ROI to ultimately make the shareholders or investors happy.

So here’s my call to action for you. Pull out that strategy and take another look at it. Don’t just look at the how, put effort into considering the who and consider all the non-rational factors as it’s these that will play a far larger part in delivering a well defined strategy. Only once they are understood will you have the solid foundation to be more effective in closing the gap.


  1. Good article. There is a lot that can be learned from the application of EQ in project management. See my article on this topic in

  2. Thanks for the comment Shim.
    Yes there is. Project management is not just about ticking boxes and filling in status reports. Leading and delivering successful projects relies on far more than process, which is why the 'who' is so important. By taking the time to find out what makes people tick helps you genuinely empower them. Result - increased quality, accelerated results, improved ROI.


  3. I am completing my 3rd year BSc credit for software project management. The University syllabus covers planning and estimating in huge detail. The chapters on Human resources, leadership and people skills are "recommended reading - not for exams".

    Project management software these days can calculate formulas and schedules more accurately than a human ever could. Our estimation methods are based on the idea that "all program code is created equal" - it's charged by the line? That is like pricing books based on the number of pages! Only an accountant could have come up with that one!

    What is really needed is the unique human ability to identify risks (which are always about unexpected human behaviour) and manage and motivate individuals.

  4. Dianne
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's disappointing to hear the 'who' of the university syllabus is only recommended reading. What with that being left untested and focus remaining on the how to's, is it any wonder project failure rates are so high?