small change: a crisis is an emotional intelligence (EQ) test for your board


small change
Ciarán Fenton
How small changes in your behaviour have a big impact on how you work, lead and follow.
That’s the working title of a book I’m writing, initially as a series of short blogs.
You can see the full blog index here as it builds.
Blog 49 small change: a crisis is an emotional intelligence (EQ) test for your board
•When I say “board” I mean: main & operating boards, ExCos, and management teams
EQ Test for boards
Your board can experience a crisis at any time.
It could result from any number of “risk events”: pandemic, terrorism, weather, conduct, financial, hostile bid or data leak.
All of these present existential risks to your organisation.
The response of your board can make or break your organisation. This response will come from your board or from the most powerful people, or person, in the organisation.
It follows that the quality of the decision-making process in response to the risk event is key.
That quality is determined, largely, by behaviour.
Behaviour can be measured, roughly, using some of the core components of emotional intelligence.
In my work, I focus on three EQ components especially at times of crisis:
  • Self-awareness:  how aware am I of my own behaviour patterns, particularly under stress?
  • Empathy: to what extent can I understand how another might be feeling, especially under stress?
  • Ability to meet needs productively: to what extent can I get my needs met productively, especially at times of crisis?

I have designed a rough EQ Test for Boards – main and operating – ExCos and management teams – see grid above.

The “fantasy board” scores above come from my memory of a broad range of characters in those key roles that I have encountered in my corporate and consulting career since I started work in 1982. Some of the scores are an amalgam of characters. That said, the scores are not untypical of many boards in my experience.

The fantasy board above scored 160 over 330 or 48% on my rough scoreboard. If the entire board were involved in a decsion-making process during a crisis I would be concerned.

If, say, during a crisis the CEO (Score 63%) and the CFO (Score 53%) made the key decisions –  the outcomes could be seriously damaging for the organisation.

If in truth, the Chair (Score 33%) holds all the power then, the organisation above could, as we say where I come from, be totally fecked in a crisis.

So how can any organisation mitigate the risk of taking poor or disastrous decisions during a crisis?

  • Hold full and formal meetings of all members of your board or boards. Do not succumb to the dangers of “sofa decision-making” famously criticised in The Chilcot Report:
  • “Tony Blair’s “sheer psychological dominance” played a key role in the run-up to the Iraq war, and meant that flawed evidence justifying the 2003 invasion was never challenged, Sir John Chilcot told MPs on Wednesday. Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, Chilcot said “sofa government”, in which ministers were not consulted on crucial decisions, reached a high point under Blair. This reflected Blair’s personal preferences, he said. He said that on several occasions between 2002 and 2007 “things were decided without reference to cabinet”. They included the legal basis on which the UK went to war in 2003 as part of a US-led coalition and the decision, once Saddam Hussein had been toppled, for Britain to take over the administration of four of Iraq’s southern provinces. Referring to the evidence given to his inquiry, Chilcot said he recalled asking the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, why the cabinet had not “provided more of a challenge” to Blair or demanded more information. “The answer that came back was that Tony Blair had, as leader of the opposition and in government, rescued his party from a dire predicament. I had the sense from Straw’s answer that he had achieved a personal and political dominance, a sheer psychological dominance.” (The Guardian 3 November 2016)
  • Have the courage to do an internal oral (NB unwritten) EQ Test on each other to determine the risks.  Had The Blair Cabinet had a modicum of introspection it might have avoided many of the problems highlighted in the report. It is notable that earlier in his term, Mr Blair had taken a different and more inclusive decision-making approach during the negotiation of The Good Friday Agreement. So,  if your board considered seriously the prospect of the damage it might do to the organisation by not improving its EQ during a crisis then it might be incentivised to do so.
  • If you are on a board, then study mindfulness processes. Simply become aware of the extent to which you are self-aware or not, empathetic or not, can negotiate your needs productively or not. Initially don’t try to change anything. Simply notice your own behaviour as in: “now I’m aware that I am terrified of this situation but afraid to show it/I despise him/her for feeling terrified in this crisis/why can’t they shut-the-f**k-up and just do what I say!!!”

If you start by simply noticing your behaviour you will soon start to change it, voluntarily.

Small changes for sure.

But that’s all it takes, especially in a crisis.

Ciarán Fenton

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