Ethical Failures in Executives

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

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

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, neuroscience journalist Jonah Lehrer discusses the contradiction of power — 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, the TalentSmart consulting firm 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, through behavioral-based interviews and 360-degree feedback.

Executives with little experience in receiving feedback can find this approach somewhat threatening. Try to conquer those fears, as the process brings needed attention to gaps and development opportunities. It may be best to work with a leadership coach.

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. Schedule a free 30-minute consultation to explore how I can help.