The natural fit of emotional intelligence in family business (Part 1 of 2)

Kent Rhodes
Kent Rhodes

I’ve always been fascinated with the internal workings of leadership in family businesses and how founders of a successful family enterprise seem to have so much in common around their understanding of people. One of the roles I play in my life is that of a research advisor to graduate students at Pepperdine University. This means I see first hand how smart students explore and test interesting questions and how their discoveries can be applied to all kinds of organizations, especially to family businesses.

One of those recent studies by graduate student Emily Spivey explored the role that Emotional Intelligence (EI) plays in how effective entrepreneurs grow an organization from the ground up. I got excited about the results and implications for how EI and “entrepreneurialism” might be built and passed along as a part of effective continuity planning in the family firm. This is the first of two blog posts in which I’ll share the study along with the seven ways emotional intelligence can be perpetuated in family firms for future generations.

In recent years, emotional intelligence has become a core piece of the discussion about effective leadership in business. Essentially, it the ability to monitor and understand the impact of emotions – from one’s self and others – on one’s own behavior and others’ behavior, all in a way that guides wise decision making.

It will come as no surprise to anyone affiliated with a successful family business that this study verified previous research results (Barczak, Iassk, and Mulki, 2010; Cross and Travaglione, 2003, etc.) that there are clear links to the health, survivability, and overall effectiveness of entrepreneurial ventures to the personal qualities and leadership capabilities of the founder. It also bore out the notion that effective entrepreneurs naturally create an environment or culture of trust which fosters everyone collaborating more naturally, developing creative solutions, and achieving better overall results (more about that in the next post).

Interestingly enough, when asked about their understanding of emotional intelligence during the study, respondents were vague about their ideas. They tended to associate EI with “soft skills” and yet as they described their day-to-day work, the importance of using those skills became clearer. As a result, the group identified seven qualities that are important in their own leadership effectiveness when building an organization from the ground up.

They include:

  • Reading the Room
  • Decision Making
  • Hard Leadership
  • Risk Taking
  • Leadership of Self and Others
  • Interaction with Others
  • Trust Building

In my next post, I’ll share how these seven qualities apply to family businesses and the continuity of building “entrepreneurialism” in subsequent generations.

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