Recently the Daily Mirror published an article questioning whether or not women need to be tough at work to succeed (Gunawardena 5/3/11). The author used as an example a woman business owner who involved herself with her employees and their lives and failed to let poor-performing employees go. He suggested that these attributes were associated with the woman's emotional intelligence. Because the business ended up struggling to survive, the assumption was that the woman's emotional intelligence skills led the company to near failure.
The author's assumptions are not founded on sound theory. Yes, emotional intelligence is a "soft skill," but it is not about being soft. It is about being able to recognize your emotions and the emotions of others so that you can make better decisions of what to do (or not to do). Ultimately, with this information, people are able to handle tough situations in an effective manner. They don't allow their emotions to cloud their thinking. People with a high EI skill set are able to recognize their emotions and manage them so that they can think clearly, in-the-moment, and make better decisions.
Giving difficult feedback is one situation the author suggests that women handle poorly. Let's examine this suggestion more closely. In order to give constructive feedback, the giver needs to have two specific skill sets. The first is that the individual needs to have a process that focuses on the employee's behavior, not his or her personality, and provides the steps for both the supervisor and the employee to agree upon actions to take to remedy the situation. Hand-in-hand with the ability to follow a good feedback process is the ability to understand and manage one's own emotions and feelings. As mentioned earlier, it is exactly emotional intelligence skills that help in this situation. Without skills in both areas (giving feedback and emotional intelligence) people are not likely to perform well regardless of whether they are a man or a woman.
The author also suggests that having sympathy jeopardizes the individual's supervisory skills because sympathizing with the other person may cause the supervisor to avoid tough situations. While not exactly the same thing as sympathy, the emotional intelligence competency of empathy can be very powerful in helping people while employing their supervisory skills. Empathy is viewing the situation from another's perspective. This doesn't mean that the supervisor agrees or is affected by that individual. It simply provides greater insight into helping resolve any conflicts or disagreements constructively.
The author did not mention another issue. Perhaps the business fell upon hard times simply because of the recent economic downturn. With so many businesses failing, the owner's management style may have had nothing to do with the state of the business.
When it comes to relationships, the author correctly suggests that people need to maintain balance. But this is true in most any circumstance. Ultimately emotional intelligence provides skills for people to be highly effective even under the most trying circumstances. Business owners with enhanced emotional intelligence skills would have the advantage.