In todays health care industry organizations are constantly striving to stay ahead of the competition. One area that has come into the spot light is the organization’s leaders. What types of leaders are paving the way for the organization’s future? After all, an organization is only as successful as the people it employs. In order to create a strong organizational culture and a successful health care system it must have effective leadership. It is theorized that one characteristic that many effective leaders possess is the ability to utilize their emotional intelligence. Throughout this paper we will discuss the importance of emotional intelligence in the modern day health care industry and the role it plays in effective leadership.
Emotional Intelligence is defined as “ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth” (Faguy, 2012). There are five different mechanisms or “components” involved in the emotional intelligence aspect of leadership. They include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Self-awareness is “the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.” A self-aware leader is going to be in tune with their own emotions have the consciousness to realize how it affects those around them. Once these emotions have been identified, a leader with self-regulation will be able to control these emotions and will not act on emotional impulse. Self-regulation is “the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses.” Motivation which is defined as “a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status” allows emotionally intelligent leaders to exhibit a strong desire to work and accomplish goals apart from those goals that are self satisfying. A leader with emotional intelligence will also be capable of expressing empathy for employees by understanding how they react emotionally to situations. Empathy is defined in the five components as “the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people.” Finally, emotionally intelligent leaders will have strong social skills that allow lead their teams in change by managing and building trust and relationships amongst staff. (Golman, 2004) The following diagram maps out these components of a leader’s emotional intelligence.
Studies suggest that emotional intelligence affects a person’s mental health and well being; whereas the opposite or lack of emotional intelligence tends to be associated with individuals prone to violent behavior and overall decompensation. (Faguy, 2012) As a result of theories and studies that have produced similar conclusions, health care organizations have begun to place an emphasis on creating emotionally intelligent leaders. While many believe that leaders are born, some will protest that leaders can also be made. For this reason training programs are developed to help leaders learn how to become more emotionally intelligent. (Sadri, 2012) It is also important to note that while managers can also be leaders, not all leaders are managers. As Abraham Zaleznik stated, “Managers and leaders are two different animals. Leaders, like artisits, tolerate chaos and lack of structure. They keep answers in suspense, preventing premature closure on important issues. Managers seek order, control, and rapid resolution of problems.” (Zaleznik, 1992)
Teams tend to perform at a higher lever under an emotionally intelligent management, or at least management that has been through emotional intelligence training. (Sadri, 2012) While it is important for managers to be emotionally intelligent, managers are not the only people in an organization that benefit from these qualities and characteristics. Leaders are not only found in board rooms; they come in many different forms. (Goleman, 2004) Emotional intelligence is a fundamental key to success in the health care industry. It has been found that nurses that possess emotional intelligence characteristics are generally able to provide better care to their patients and are much happier while providing that care. When a nurse is able to read the patient’s emotions and empathize they are then able to approach the patient in the correct manner and optimize the patient’s care. Patients with will begin to feel more safe and comfortable with a nurse that has emotional intelligence. In the past comfort and compassion were seen as a woman’s job; therefore, male health care professionals did not attempt to empathize with patients. Also, health care was seen as a very technical and scientific field that did not involve emotions. With the direction the health care industry has taken with patient-centered care, these emotionless environments no longer are acceptable standards of care in the eyes of both patients and health care leaders. This creates a “profound need to bridge the gap between medical and emotional aspects of care.” (Venkatesh, 2012)
The Commonwealth Fund conducted a study of the emotionally intelligent based initiatives that Baylor Health Care System has put into place as common practice. Baylor Health Care System created the Best Care Committee in order to help provide “safe, quality, compassionate health care.” On this committee sits physicians and nurses that have direct contact with patients as well as other professionals that focus on patient safety and patient-centeredness. In order for the Best Care Committee to pass initiatives to improve patient care they must be in tune with the patient concerns and needs; the committee members must be able to decipher patient emotions and empathize with them. Then they must also have the social skills and be able to direct the correct emotions through the entire system for these patient-centered initiatives to be accepted and successful. Baylor Health Care System also provides training to its managers and leaders in order to enhance the patient care and their experience. An example of one of Baylor Health Care System’s emotional intelligence training classes is Accelerating Best Care. With all initiatives it is important to have strong leadership support, and these leaders must possess the skills and characteristics of emotional intelligence for any of their initiatives to be a success. (Emswiler, 2009) Baylor Health Care System has developed a culture of service excellence with emotionally intelligent leadership that is able to implement initiatives like the Best Care Committee. Herkenhoff believes that these types of cultures have great influence on the organizations themselves. This theory is expressed in the following diagram. (Herkenhoff, 2010)
Herkenhoff’s theory that there is a correlation between an organization’s culture and the emotional intelligence of its leaders was put to the test in a study that was preformed with 58 physicians. These physicians shared the same cultural beliefs but had begun to notice some communication problems amongst the group. Five of the physicians were selected randomly and given an emotional intelligence test to complete. The remaining physicians were polled, and information was collected on the five physicians in the focus group pertaining to their communication techniques. After all data had been gathered and compared it was discovered that there was a very strong correlation between the physicians’ emotional intelligence levels and their use of defensive communication tactics. The physicians with the highest emotional intelligence scores used defensive means of communication much less than those physicians with lower emotional intelligence scores. The graph depicts the relationship between the emotional intelligence levels and the defensive communication usage. (Herkenhoff, 2010)
As you can see, physician number one had the highest emotional intelligence score and the lowest use of defensive communication tactics.
Other studies have indicated that health care employees that possess emotional intelligence characteristics have a higher work performance and greater job satisfaction; they do not get “burned out” as easily and tend to not carry as much stress as a coworker that do not possess these emotional intelligence characteristics. It was also more common for more tenured employees to exhibit higher signs of emotional intelligence. While employees with more developed emotional intelligence characteristics showed a noticeable difference in job satisfaction and personal contentment over those that did not possess the emotional intelligence traits, they did not find any correlation to improved patient care. Although no direct patient care or satisfaction was improved in this instance, there still remains the possibility that increased employee satisfaction will in turn have an indirect positive impact on the quality of patient care in the future. (Birks, 2007)
The incorporation of emotional intelligence into the health care setting is a relatively novel idea aiming at improving the quality of patient care and creating a patient-centered approach to medicine. While there are not many studies proving its effectiveness, there have been several case studies proving its potential in achieving the modern day health care goal of higher quality care for patients. Not only does emotional intelligence have a promising future in creating patient-centered care, but it also has great value to health care employees and leaders. Emotional intelligence training offers increase job satisfaction, reduced stress, and potentially higher employee retention. It also fosters an environment of teamwork and trust. As a health care leader with emotional intelligence skills and characteristics, you will have much more success implementing initiatives and leading your organization into a bright and successful future. While many good leaders are “born”, great leaders can also be “made”. (Goleman, 2004)