Is the growing use of EI in organisations more emotional than intelligent?

I recently received an invitation to become accredited in delivering and assessing the MSCEIT, a test to assess "emotional intelligence" described as follows:

"The only abilities-based test measuring emotional intelligence. This individual performance measure doesn't give perceived or subjective EI results, it gives results of actual measured EI skills, like an IQ test."

The invitation enthusiastically also claimed that:

"Emotional intelligence (EI) lies at the heart of high performance, effectiveness and wellbeing."

Certainly many organisations seem to have fallen in love with psychometric assessment tools in a big way and they are often so woven into the fabric of organisational life that acronyms like EI, MBTI, DISC, LSI and NLP are commonly used in many organisational conversations.

I'm intrigued as to the popularity of these tools relative to the evidence that exists for their reliability and validity or even for the construct they purport to be measuring e.g. a number of researchers have examined have challenged the reliability and validity of the MBTI but this does appear to have affected the enthusiastic selling of MBTI based services by suppliers or the "reciprocal enthusiasm" to continually purchase MBTI based products.

In the case of EI, a recent study by Follesdal and Hagtvet in The Leadership Quarterly 24 (2013) makes intriguing reading given the current zeitgeist and enthusiasm for all things EI. The authors explored the ability of EI as measured by the MSCEIT to predict transformational leadership and concluded:

"The results from the present study suggest that the scores from the MSCEIT by and large are unrelated to transformational leadership. On psychometric grounds, the validity of the scores from the MSCEIT may be questioned, and the finding that the scores do not predict transformational leadership, support this conclusion..... Future research would benefit from firmly establishing the content and structural validity of any measure of EI before assessing the relationship with transformational leadership."

This is consistent with other research indicating that proponents of EI may have somewhat overstretched the construct's potential use and some research questioning whether EI is a valid construct at all. From a coaching perspective, I do not believe that approaches premised on EI should be abandoned altogether. However, I do suggest that a more judicious, informed and nuanced use of EI - or any other psychometric tool - may better serve the client: Questioning why I favour a particular assessment tool - (Why am I so attached to it? Comfort level? Financial gain? Because I'm qualified to do it?) and at what stage of the coaching conversation I use it (How does it benefit the coaching conversation? What does it enable and what does it constrain?) - might be useful questions to ask myself rather than making a wholesale assumption that a MSCEIT or any other psychological assessment (MBTI, DISC, LSI etc) is something that should automatically applied to any coaching engagement - either with an individual or a group.

My personal opinion is that, based on the available evidence, EI may sometimes be a contextually useful lens through which to conceptualise a coaching conversation, but no more than that. I would also suggest that many of the "tenets" of EI and how people can develop their EI skills to further their careers etc are very similar to (caution prevents me to saying "exactly the same as") mindfulness training approaches (ACT etc). These have an accumulated body of research reinforcing their credibility, are not proprietary in nature, are much cheaper than proprietary models and do not over promise regarding results and time frames.


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