Don’t Let People Halt Progress


Many times it is the people on the team that limit their own company’s growth. Infighting, politics and a lack of conviction at the top are the most common inhibitors to growth that we see in our work as consultants. Sure, breakthrough ideas backed by a strong business case are needed to fuel continued growth, but many times those are easier to come by than team collaboration and consensus. People stand in the way of progress.

It seems that while generating growth strategies is an intellectual exercise, team alignment for execution and implementation requires emotional intelligence. The concept of emotional intelligence was popularized in business lexicon in the late ’90s by Daniel Goleman, who focuses on EI to drive leadership performance. Goleman’s model outlines five main EI constructs:

1. Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions.

2. Self-regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.

3. Social skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction

4. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions

5. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.

Emotional competencies are not innate talents but, rather, learned capabilities that must be worked on and can be developed to achieve outstanding performance. Goleman posits that individuals are born with a general emotional intelligence that determines their potential for learning emotional competencies. These qualities may sound out of place in the business arena, but Goleman found direct correlation between emotional intelligence and measurable business results.

For a growth initiative to take root, emotional intelligence must be present throughout the company. The middle management team needs to successfully achieve executive buy-off and then the executives must successfully enroll the team needed for implementation. The more emotionally intelligent the company, the faster the process will progress and ultimately the more innovative the company will become.

It is troubling to think about the amount of time and energy expended on navigating internal politics. Further, it zaps employees’ creativity, enthusiasm and motivation. Think how much more effective your company would be if everyone was rowing in the same direction.

Communication and mandate alone are not enough to win over hearts and minds. Company leaders must strengthen their own emotional intelligence and then intentionally create a culture based in emotional intelligence. In this case the popular phrase “it starts at the top” is not totally true. It needs to be systemic – one or two bad actors can be toxic for the whole organization. Want to get smart? Hire emotionally intelligent people.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit to learn more.