Emotional Quotient is key to career development

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, February 6, 2017

“What can I tell you — the guy just seems a little ‘off,’ not really clueless, but sometimes the dude just seems to have two left feet.”

I will wager that conversation has occurred more than once in your business interactions. The factor that you are aware of is called Emotional Quotient (aka emotional intelligence). EQ plays a major role in your career advancement — even more than your achievements. In any group, there is always someone who “gets it.” He/she makes everyone feel comfortable, moves the ball without dropping it, has a glib and friendly manner, senses when to talk and when not to talk, and knows how to defuse awkward moments. In other words, the person has a high EQ.

So to learn more, I turned to a new book, “Unequaled” by James Runde, a former Morgan Stanley investment banker. I need to tell you that being a successful banker is about 93 percent soft skills and schmooze and 7 percent number crunching (which you get the junior grunt just out of Wharton to do for you), so this guy knows whereof he speaks.

Runde says that when associates were not promoted in the bank, the stumbling block was usually one of the three things that are required to be a banker. (I can’t help but hear echoes of the famous “Seinfeld” episode where Newman gets a speeding ticket in his effort to save Kramer from suicide, his misery brought on by his failure to become a banker).

The three things that either limit or doom your advancement are “lack of adaptability, not good at collaborating or just didn’t click with clients.” In other words, the candidate did not create empathy with the client. Runde explains that these three skills — cognitive, work ethic and emotional intelligence — are critical in dealing with clients. Now every B-school in the country can teach the first two, but the third one is not so easy. There is no algorithm for EQ. It is like fuzzy logic (where the truth values for the variables are exactly that — variable.)

What advances a banker’s career are networking and bringing in the clients — and that last one, above all, requires the client to trust you. Trust. I have some pals who do “wealth management,” and the sad truth is that most of their investment returns are within 50 basis points of each other up or down. The way they keep their clients (even when they pick a dog that goes down 60 percent) is that you, the client, have developed a trust in them. And EQ and Trust are intimately tied together.

Runde hires MBAs right out of school. The first transition he demands is from the academic case (teacher knows the right answer and you learn how to parrot it back to him) to the business case (there is no right answer and you need to figure it out). The additional subtext here is that in order to advance his career, our young associate also needs to find a “sponsor” — not just a mentor. His upward arc depends on hard skills, as well as a sponsor who gets him into the right place at the right time — takes him along on a big deal, gives him the ball with a relatively clear field, so he can score. (Finding a generous sponsor is a whole other ball of wax — and EQ is primary for that one.)

Runde says, “It’s almost like kindergarten. Needs to work and play well with others. The big firms do not want a lone wolf; they need a team player.” (In another column, I am going to extol the virtues of the rebel in a company.)

I am not a big fan of investment bankers. They always seem overpaid to me, but when they are good, they are very good (credit that to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). All of us need to develop empathy for the client, stand in his shoes (and then sell them to the highest bidder), as well as develop a way for clients to trust you.

This trust thing is nuanced. I think it comes from active listening, blended with a touch of humility and sending the message of comfort. It is the combination of “I will take care of everything, don’t worry, it is all going to work out fine” along with “if the guy doesn’t agree, we will just burn his building down.” Maybe Tony Soprano should have been an investment banker.

Rule No. 496:  Trust, but verify.

A Russian proverb.

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