Emotionally intelligent managers are less popular and ineffective, study says

New research challenges assumption that better managers possess more emotional intelligence

New findings have the potential to change future approaches to leadership training

New findings have the potential to change future approaches to leadership training

Managers with a high level of emotional intelligence are more likely to be unpopular and ineffective when compared with their peers, according to a new study.

The research, from Manchester Metropolitan University and the EMLyon Business School in France, challenges a common assumption that increased emotional intelligence is always a good trait for managers.

Working with the NHS, researchers asked staff to assess their managers’ level of empathy as well as awareness of their own and others’ emotions. As a result, the study concludes that beyond a certain point, high levels of emotional intelligence may not necessarily lead to enhanced outcomes.

Dr Sumona Mukhuty, Principal Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “In the last two decades, emotional intelligence has often been identified as key factor in effective leadership. However, our work within the NHS suggests there could be a saturation point.

“During a time of fundamental reorganisation within the health service, we found that managers who were rated beyond a particular threshold of emotional intelligence were not necessarily highly effective.”

Increases in emotional intelligence beyond a moderately high level are detrimental rather than beneficial in terms of a leader’s effectiveness.

As part of the study, over 300 NHS managers reported on the extra effort they put into the job along with staff satisfaction with them and how well they implemented change within the organisation.

Researchers found that beyond an ‘optimum’ point, high emotional intelligence led to a drop in positive outcomes.

Dr Mukhuty and Professor Nikos Bozionelos, of the EMLyon Business School, presented the study at the British Academy of Management conference in Birmingham. The annual event attracts more than 900 delegates including management researchers, practitioners and doctoral students.

Professor Bozionelos said: “Increases in emotional intelligence beyond a moderately high level are detrimental rather than beneficial in terms of a leader’s effectiveness. Too much emotional intelligence is associated with too much empathy, which in turn may make a manager hesitant to apply measures that he or she feels will impose excessive burden or discomfort to subordinates.

“Simply considering that the more emotional intelligence the manager has, the better it is may be an erroneous way of thinking. As well as implications for emotional intelligence and leadership theory, these findings have the potential to change future approaches to leadership training.”

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