06/10/2021 - 14:00

Universities need more EQ

06/10/2021 - 14:00


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A high level of EQ is a must-have quality for modern university leaders.

EQ helps an individual read the room. Photo: Stockphoto

University leaders have found themselves operating in an increasingly complex world since COVID-19 upended the higher education sector.  

Unsurprisingly, some have turned to enhancing their emotional intelligence, or EQ, to help them to steer through difficult issues.

Expectations of academic leaders have never been higher.

There are student numbers to grow, research initiatives to progress, disrupted course delivery models to address, revenue shortfalls to manage, university rankings to contend with and much, much more.

Meeting many of these expectations requires university leaders to: consider the needs of students from diverse backgrounds; work closely with academic and professional staff; form partnerships with federal, state, and local governments; consult community groups; and navigate through the differing views of a range of key stakeholders.

At the same time, their leadership role invariably leads to emotionally charged discussions, decisions, and directives.

Effective leadership in higher education is inextricably linked to an individual’s capacity to establish, build, and maintain productive and harmonious relationships with those in their immediate and broader communities.

A university leader’s level of EQ, particularly in the current environment, can make the difference between someone who gets things done and another who withers on the vine.

Not all leaders who work in higher education have a clear understanding of their level of EQ.

EQ is the ability to identify and manage one’s emotions at the same time as being able to recognise the emotions of others and using this knowledge to guide behaviour and thinking.

Qualities such as the ability to listen and communicate are as important as adaptability, self-management, and the capacity to work in teams.

EQ is more than simply being nice and making people feel good.

It is about creating an environment that is respectful of others’ emotions and, importantly, allowing the type of robust debate needed in universities at a time of necessary change.

University leaders with high EQ tend to have a strong capacity for building positive working relationships with their staff, students, and those in the broader community. 

They are great listeners and possess a seemingly telepathic quality that enables them to pick up on the emotional state of others. 

Emotionally intelligent university leaders recognise that for their every action there will be a reaction. They can frame their responses or actions in any given circumstance in such a way as to maintain and enhance relationships.

Importantly, EQ-charged university leaders know both their strengths and shortcomings because they are aware of the triggers that cause their most adverse emotional reactions. This also enables them to take steps to maintain self-control. 

Most importantly, those university leaders with high EQ can keep their egos in check while allowing others around them to shine.

It follows that university leaders without much EQ are likely to be overwhelmed by their own emotions.

They will fail to recognise the feelings as they experience them, find it challenging to read others’ emotions and often refuse to listen to alternative points of view. 

Those with low EQ will be quick to apportion blame, experience extreme frustration when others do not relate to their point of view, and express surprise when their comments are taken the wrong way.

Ironically, in preparing for their careers – or their academic training – many university leaders are taught to downplay their own emotions to avoid personal biases spilling over into research and teaching.

Yet being disconnected from emotions can create significant challenges when working alongside others on university administration, projects, and initiatives.

In the modern university, EQ is a must have.

When university leaders apply EQ to their everyday work, they create a culture where people feel valued, engaged, and empowered.

Embracing EQ represents a massive shift from the past when raw intellectual horsepower, or IQ, was regarded as the single-most important ingredient if you wanted to advance your career from being an academic to becoming an academic leader.

Today, in an era of unprecedented change in the higher education sector, the most effective and successful leaders will have an EQ that eclipses the importance of their IQ.

Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Management WA


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