Education must help foster emotional intelligence alongside intellectual abilities

 Education must help foster emotional intelligence alongside intellectual abilities

Dr Payal Kumar

A deluge of studies – referred to as the affective revolution – strongly suggests emotional intelligence is a key determinant of leadership effectiveness, leading to several positive work outcomes including improved group performance. This research has been further vindicated by recent neuroscience studies that suggest effective decision making is not only dependent on reasoning and analytical thinking, but also upon the processing of emotions. Even UNESCO has begun to advocate social-emotional learning as a key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. That’s how important emotions and emotional intelligence (EI) are.

Yet in spite of these convincing research findings, business schools and universities the world over continue to follow ‘old school’ practices that primarily develop cognitive intelligence (measured as IQ), rather than emotional intelligence. There may be a solitary course on EI and well-being such as ‘The Science of Well-Being’ offered at Yale University, or Bristol University’s ‘The Science of Happiness.’ There is even the odd professor who begins class with group meditation, but he is more liable to be mocked than respected.

Yet there is a stark absence of an integrated syllabus that nurtures the emotional intelligence of our students, which noted scholars like Henry Mintzberg have been vociferously advocating since 1990. He has been saying persistently that in the classroom there needs to be a greater emphasis on the emotional, caring and creative side of the student, in other words intuitive and emotional right-brain thinking, rather than only logical and analytical left-brain thinking. “Cognitive learning is detached and informational, like reading a book or listening to a lecture. No doubt much important cognitive material must be assimilated by the manager-to-be. But cognitive learning no more makes a manager than it does a swimmer.”

In this context several questions emerge. Why is it that enhancing emotional quotient and social dexterity are not part of mainstream teaching in business schools, whereas reasoning and analytical thinking are (such as data analytics, corporate finance, IT management)? What tools can teachers use to enhance their own self-awareness and that of their students too? Should mindfulness practices, meditation, yoga and self-reflection techniques be brought into the classroom on a regular basis? In teacher training programmes should teachers not be made aware of emotional contagion, in which the teacher’s positive emotions contribute to student learning, while negative emotions such as anger or anxiety can negatively impact students?

Effectively preparing twenty-first century managers calls for teachers-as-exemplars to heighten their own emotional intelligence, and also teach students in a manner that develops the full cerebral hemisphere. After all, why use one-half of the brain when you can use both hemispheres?  In order to prepare students to be effective and likeable leaders of tomorrow in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), teachers do need to arm them with all the knowledge and skills possible. It is evident that the workforce today does not shine to the reactive, angry manager who remains embedded in the outdated carrot-and-stick leadership style, but rather to the emotionally mature manager high in self-restraint, self-awareness and empathy, who is key to not only improving the emotional climate in the workplace, but also making each employee feel valued.

Dr Payal Kumar is Dean, Research & Management Studies
at Indian School of Hospitality, Gurugram, Haryana


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