Ethical Failures in Executives

The news media have highlighted numerous cases involving failed CEOs derailed by their low emotional intelligence, or EI. Press coverage has prompted boards to become more sensitive to this leadership trait.

Leaders are prone to ethical failures if you overestimate your intelligence and believe you’ll never get caught. Arrogance distorts leaders capacity to read situations accurately.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, neurosciences journalist Jonah Lehrer discusses the contradiction of power — essentially, how nice people can change when they assume positions of authority.

“People in power tend to reliably overestimate their moral virtue, which leads them to stifle oversight,” he writes. “They lobby against regulators, and fill corporate boards with their friends. The end result is sometimes power at its most dangerous.”

Research by Daniel Goleman and other experts supports the view that EI can be learned, and it seems to rise with age and maturity.

In 2005, TalentSmart measured the EI of 3,000 top executives in China. The Chinese leaders scored, on average, 15 points higher than American executives in self-management and relationship management. To compete globally, the United States must pay attention to emotional competencies.

Developing your EI skills is not something you learn in school or by reading a book. It takes training, practice and reinforcement. The first step is measurement and feedback that can be provided through 360-degree assessments which I offer.

Executives with little experience in receiving feedback can find this approach somewhat threatening. However, the process brings affirmation where one is doing well and needed attention to gaps and development opportunities. It is best to work with an executive coach like myself when working to improve emotional intelligence.

Remember: Your emotional state and actions affect how others feel and perform. This trickle-down effect contributes to — or sabotages — your organization’s well-being. If you are interested in learning more about your own EI, consider working with a coach. Give me a call if I can help with a 360 assessment and EI coaching.

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