The Emotional Intelligence of TELUS Leaders

It’s a classic piece of prose, one that set in motion the notion that being tough as a leader — all the time — might be as useful as powdered water.

Back in 1998, Daniel Goleman penned what may be argued as one of the top five articles from Harvard Business Review ever. In the paper “What Makes A Leader“, Goleman argues — through years of research — leaders who remain steadfast in their belief they must adhere to classic top-down management practices in lieu of what he refers to as “the five components of emotional intelligence work” (self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill) are in fact less effective than their counterparts.

We couldn’t agree more over here at TELUS.

For example, we recently kicked off our 2013/2014 cohort of the Leadership NOW Program; a highly coveted 365 day program made up of formal, informal and social learning opportunities aimed at roughly 750 high potential and high performer team members. After a two month onboarding period in July and August we got participants together in early September for the kick-off event in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver as well as our digital virtual world, TELUS Collaboration House.

Ya, so what Dan?

In each of the locations, we invited five Vice-Presidents and Senior Vice-Presidents on stage for a 90-minute question and answer with the Leadership NOW attendees. There were no scripts. There were no canned questions. There were no planted moles in the audience. It was unfiltered, raw and clearly a test of their emotional intelligence. I had a front row seat as someone threw me up there as the moderator. Token bald guy, I say.


Guess what happened?

There wasn’t a single question about TELUS or the business of telecom or healthcare or call centers or P&L statements. Every single question in every single location that was asked of the audience had to do with such things as work life balance, career mistakes, leadership advice, team chemistry issues, performance enhancements and even physical fitness.

What happened you ask?

It was an unequivocal demonstration of emotional intelligence. In each of their answers, the senior leaders described with brutal honesty and open authenticity their thoughts and ideas. They were motivated to demonstrate what was going right and wrong. They were self regulating, telling stories about their need to adapt, change and also to go with the flow. They portrayed a wicked sense of self-deprecating humour showing self-awareness in abundance. It felt like Letterman at times as the giggles were constant. There were stories of empathy such as one VP who divulged why it was difficult to go through the process of being turned down for a promotion, but how it became an empathetic learning moment. And of course everyone chimed in with stories of how they build teams through rapport, common grounding and thus their social skills.

The Leadership NOW kick-off events are but one example of the cultural ethos that has blanketed TELUS, one that vividly extends Goleman’s thesis that we must have intelligence that is both business AND emotional in nature. As Goleman himself says, “emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, the person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

I couldn’t agree more. All hail the emotional intelligence of leaders.