The concept of emotional intelligence — EQ — hit my radar screen about 25 – 30 years ago while attending a seminar presentation by Dr. Larry Richard, who at the time was a consultant with Altman Weil. He is now with LawyerBrain, a consulting practice which helps law firms tackle their most important people issues related to leadership, motivation, talent management, and managing change.
Back then, the concept of emotional intelligence was not on the radar screen of law firms or HR executives. Explosive 900-lb gorillas ruled the roost, or were tolerated, at a large percentage of firms. Most succeeded in spite of the obvious shortcoming. In fact, talented attorneys with a high IQ and low EQ were perceived and sometimes sought out as those with the “right stuff” for success.
With my roots firmly planted in financial management, I recognized the fallacy early on. Turnover at all levels of the firm, defections, and a toxic culture cost the firms I managed dearly in both dollars and work satisfaction.
One particular firm still stands out in my memory despite the passage of decades. The firm was founded by two partners. One was mild in temperament and affable. The other was undoubtedly the holder of the lowest possible EQ score on the planet. He would scream until his face was beet red and white spittle accumulated at the corners of his mouth. He would scream equally at everyone at the slightest cause of displeasure, or because of the slightest stressor. He didn’t care where the excoriating took place, and in fact most were public. It was literally physically uncomfortable to witness him eviscerate his fellow founding partner in the hallway, to the point where the partner’s hands would shake and his head would bow in an attempt to deflect what must have felt like physical blows.
I have since made it my mission to help firms come to the realization that life is too short to allow this behavior to persist if there is an alternative. Admittedly, as some firms the founder is the low-EQ culprit, and the only choice is endure or leave. But I always point out that when your choice is “my way or the highway,” leaving is an option to be considered. It’s better than becoming ill from continued stress and abuse day after day.
I also encourage accountability for unacceptable behavior in the same manner that sloppy work, missing deadlines, or inadequate client communications are behaviors which most firms will not tolerate. However, I find that the majority of firms are still unwilling to deal effectively with low-EQ offenders who are profitable for the firm. What can your firm do?
Well, if you don’t want to throw out the attorney, at least get him or her some mandatory coaching assistance. I have been increasingly referring clients to coaches for rainmaking, leadership, organization, and yes, emotional intelligence. A very smart and talented coach I have become privileged to know is Dena Lefkowitz, founder of Achievement by Design. Like Dr. Larry Richard, Dena is a “recovered attorney” who works to help those in practice improve their performance, work/life balance, and career satisfaction.
Can coaching make a difference? I am asked that all the time by skeptical clients. My answer is that it depends on the coach, and on the lawyer’s willingness and desire to improve. As Dena states in her article:
. . . professional practices today have less toleration for berating, belittling and bullying behaviors. Unlike our IQ, which remains stable over a lifetime, EQ scores can be measurably improved. Coaches use assessments, such as the EQ-i 2.0, to determine areas of strength and those needing development, which are very useful, especially if there is lack of awareness regarding unwanted behaviors in a partner or employee.
To learn more about emotional intelligence read Dena’s excellent article “How to Harness Emotional Intelligence to Ensure Success” which appeared in the July 30, 2015 issue of The Legal Intelligencer.