Emotional Intelligence / Innovation

Innovative Hard Science to Measure Soft Skills

Emotional Intelligence, gender, mental health, personality and leadership performance

Human Resource and Learning and Development professionals know the value of what are sometimes referred to by people in business as ‘soft skills.’ But for years, researchers have called for a hard test with greater scientific clarity and rigor around measuring these skills. That is, until now!

A rigorous international study involving nearly 7000 professional people using the Emotional Capital Report (ECR – developed over 10 years specifically for business) has been approved for publication in the Australian Psychological Society’s blue ribbon journal, The Australasian Journal of Organisational Psychology.

The study examined the scientific credibility (reliability and validity) of the ECR as a measure of the emotional intelligence (EI) of people in professional roles as well as the relationship of EI to gender, mental health, personality and leadership performance.

Solid Scientific Support for the ECR

Participants in the study were drawn from 11 countries and included elite leaders from banking, pharmaceutical, healthcare and education sectors.

All completed the ECR and an occupational questionnaire. In addition, many completed inventories measuring personality, and mental health.

The results provided solid scientific support for the validity and reliability of the ECR as a measure of EI, particularly in professional people. The data suggested that the content of and structure of the scales on the ECR was more consistent and focused than some other measures of EI, particularly when used in professional settings.

Gender and Age

Previous studies involving the general population had demonstrated significant differences between men and women on particular scales of emotional intelligence such as empathy, relationship skills and self-confidence. However, this study involving only professional people revealed only minor gender differences on scales measuring these specific skills. In other words, this appears to suggest that empathy is a critical factor in the success of both men and women, particularly when it comes to leadership roles. This certainly backs up Dan Goleman’s earlier claims that empathy plays a crucial role in determining professional success for both men and women.

Participants in the study ranged in age from 18 to 75 (mean 42 yrs) and in general the data suggested that EI appears to improve with age. Of course, this is only cross-sectional data rather than longitudinal. It does raise the exciting possibility, however, that if EI can be fostered in young people earlier in their careers it may accelerate their professional development.

Mental Health

We noted with great interest that the results of the study showed that ECR scales correlated strongly to measures of normal personality, and negatively to measures of depression, and psychopathology. This suggests that in addition to being supportive of effective functioning in social and professional situations, EI is also protective against stress and strong negative emotion.

Personality

The relationship of the ECR to personality, however, was far from straightforward.

Previous studies had found strong correlations between EI and personality raising questions as to whether EI contributed anything new. In this study, the majority of correlations between the ECR and personality measures were much lower. The results suggest that the ECR accounts for additional emotional and social factors related to professional performance that are missed by personality measures.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

All these findings are interesting, but the study was primarily focused on whether or not the ECR was capable of identifying and measuring key leadership behaviours.

When ECR scores from the elite leadership groups were combined, they scored significantly higher on all ECR scales than non-leaders. The science of psychometrics calls this ‘criterion group validity’ – meaning that when it comes to defining and assessing the skills that separate the good from the great the ECR is brilliant.

Conclusion

Several years ago senior researchers in psychology called for a harder science of EI including clearer definitions for emotional competencies related to leadership, and stated “new scale development is required.” This study is a response to that challenge and provides support for an exciting new technology to help HR and Learning and Development professionals measure and develop the emotional capital of their businesses.

There’s a lot more interesting data and a ton of critical discussion in the published research coming out very soon.Click here to request a link to the published study in The Australasian Journal of Organisational Psychology as soon as it comes off the presses.