Based on Research By Arnaud Chevallier

Why You Should Manage Employees As If They’re Artists

  • Emotional intelligence (EQ) is crucial when managing work teams.
  • Treat team members as if they’re artists: hire the best talent, give them support and don’t micromanage.
  • Respect each individual’s gifts and opinions.

Change is perilous. There’s a reason why most management consultants let clients install the improvements they’ve recommended. Without insightful management, many of these plans will fail.

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient or EQ, makes a difference in such cases, according to Arnaud Chevallier, a lecturer in the Rice University School of Engineering. In his new book Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving, Chevallier argues that while EQ won’t work by itself, it can dramatically enhance managers’ problem-solving success.

Using EQ to problem solve, Chevallier says, can be as powerful in the academic and corporate worlds as it is in managing high-maintenance artists. Whether it’s the conductor of an orchestra or the director of a movie, a successful leader needs to motivate individual talents to work in concert. It’s not easy. But if you want a brilliant ensemble, you need a leader who captures the best of everyone on set.. That means director, actor, set designer – no matter how large their respective egos. And that takes EQ.

There are four crucial elements in such leadership, Chevallier says.

  • Self-awareness: Know your limitations and hire the best possible coworkers to compensate.
  • Self-management: Communicate clearly and let workers know what is expected of them. Reframe arguments in a persuasive, can-do form.
  • Social awareness: Show empathy. Let others express themselves.
  • Relationship management: Be a good coworker and motivate others to create a harmonious workplace.

An emotionally intelligent team leader needs to be expert at managing, not at the skill she is managing. In a post elaborating on his book research, Chevallier put it like this: “A good generalist shouldn’t be the smartest guy in the room but, rather, the best integrator. You don’t want the symphony orchestra director to be the best violin player…. What you want is a director who is good at directing.”

These techniques, often used to manage arts productions, apply to other kinds of teams too – especially teams in transition. Consider the Tigres of Monterrey, a professional soccer team that in 2010 was undergoing a mortifying losing streak. Their record was so bad that they were threatened with demotion to a lesser league. Then the owners hired a new president, Alejandro Rodríguez. Within a year Los Tigres roared back as the Mexican league champions, and the team succeeded continually ever since.

Behind the success was EQ.

First, the new team president stifled any personal vanity and hired top-notch associates. Then he let them do their work without meddling and provided support when asked. He didn’t care if he was the smartest person in the room. He just wanted a room full of smart people.

Second, the president understood the vocabularies of each member on his team, much as a symphony conductor knows the instruments in his orchestra.

Finally, the Tigres’ president trusted in his futbolistas’ gifts. The players soon followed suit toward each other. By treating team members as artists and managing both their strengths and weaknesses, Rodríguez built a team of individual experts who worked harmoniously together.

This approach isn’t always the norm in academia or business, with their focus on technical skill. But in both fields, Chevallier argues, problem solving requires managing emotions in oneself and one’s team. Handle it right and, like a film, the product can be more than lights and a soundtrack. It can be a star-studded epic.

Arnaud Chevallier is an associate vice provost at Rice University.

To learn more, please see: Chevallier, A., Strategic Thinking in Complex Problem Solving, Oxford University Press, 2016. Or go to www.powerful-problem-solving.com/about-2.