The role of emotional intelligence in the pharma industry

Emotional intelligence has an important role to play in business. It enables individuals to better read, understand and contextualise the actions of others, both in terms of personal relationships and the wider organisation. It helps individuals to understand the impact of their own actions and choose the most effective response. However, in highly regulated industries, emotional intelligence and other ‘soft skills’ are often overlooked. This is because the intense focus on results means that leaders often ignore the ‘how’ part of the journey.

The pharmaceutical industry is one example where emotional intelligence can be better developed to improve individual, team and project performance.

Understanding emotional intelligence

The definition of emotional intelligence has evolved over the years but now the general understanding of the concept is that it refers to how people process and respond to emotional information. John D Mayer and David Caruso explained in ‘The effective leader: Understanding and applying emotional intelligence’ that it encompasses how people comprehend and use emotional information about social relationships.

“The terms-emotion and intelligence have specific, generally agreed upon scientific meanings that indicate the possible ways they can be used together,” Mayer and Caruso wrote. “Emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, and fear refer to feelings that signal information about relationships. For example, happiness signals harmonious relationships, whereas fear signals being threatened. Intelligence refers to the capacity to carry out abstract reasoning, recognise patterns, and compare and contrast. Emotional intelligence, then, refers to the capacity to understand and explain emotions, on the one hand, and of emotions to enhance thought, on the other.”

In his book ‘Emotional intelligence’, David Goleman claims emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of emotions and regulate them. He says ‘personal competence’ is being aware and regulating one’s own emotions, while ‘social competence’ is awareness and regulation of the emotions of others – skills that have clear applications for leaders.

So what does this mean for the workplace? Ultimately if all stakeholders can properly understand, process and regulate emotional information they are better placed to understand colleagues and respond in an appropriate and constructive way. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, entitled ‘Building the emotional intelligence of groups’, Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven B Wolff explained that this is crucial for the successful formation of teams that can perform. They claim that a team needs to create emotionally intelligent norms in order to be effective. This refers to the attitudes and behaviours that become habits. These norms have to help build trust, group identity and performance. Druskat and Wolff say this will result in complete engagement with tasks.

Emotional intelligence in Pharma

Research suggests that many pharmaceutical companies may be lacking when it comes to emotional intelligence. The Center for Creative Leadership found in ‘The leadership challenge in the pharmaceutical sector’ report that pharma leaders were rated lowest by their employees when it came to confronting problem members of staff. What’s more, leading employees were given the second lowest score.

These problems often occur when professionals are directive in their style and unable to read situations in order to flex their style to meet the situation or communicate and respond in the right way. This impacts upon teams and can prevent them performing due to a lack of alignment with purpose and distrust of stakeholders.

To turn this around, pharmaceutical companies need to work on developing a full range of leadership skills utilising the benefits of emotional intelligence. Part of this is done during the formation of teams, as this is where individuals get to know each other and establish accepted behaviours.

At Primeast we recognise the four key stages to creating a team, as identified by Bruce Tuckman, researcher in organisational behaviour and leader in the theory of group dynamics: forming, storming, norming and performing.

Forming allows team members to learn what they need from each other and establish the rules of engagement. It is in this stage that emotional intelligence can really come into its own. Team members should be encouraged to communicate and learn how other’s work. Being vulnerable and admitting weaknesses straight from the off will help to build trust.

We can then test boundaries during the storming stage, where a team member pushes the limits of what is and what is not allowed. By embracing conflict during this phase, individuals can learn how best to respond to certain situations and what not to do to avoid certain emotions and conflict. If these stages have been done properly, teams can norm (fit into a normal way of working) and perform (periodic moments where teams excel).

By developing emotional intelligence in this way, pharmaceutical companies are able to build better teams and more effective leaders.

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