What is the most important attribute to be looking for as you groom your young lawyers for management? 

A 2006 study reviewed in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal assessed the relationship between emotional intelligence and managerial effectiveness, confirming what you might expect.  A total of 38 supervisors (37 males and 1 female) and 1,258 subordinates from a large manufacturing organization participated. Data analysis found that the total MSCEIT score (an emotional intelligence assessment that I consider most reliable) displayed a strong positive correlation with supervisor ratings; that is, the more emotionally intelligent the supervisor, the more effective and productive s/he was rated by others in the organization.

First, I would point out that this study doesn’t tell us whether these emotionally intelligent supervisors who were rated more effective actually were more effective than their lower EI colleagues.  All we know is that they were perceived to be more effective.  The implication being that even if those high EI supervisors weren’t quite so great in the accomplishments department as advertised, their loyal team still saw them in the best possible light.

This distinction is particularly important in environments such as law firms and law departments, where dramatically high skepticism (averaging in the top 10% of the American population) creates hurdles that make it hard for managers to establish rapport and trust, much less garner appreciation for a job reasonably well done.  Second- and third-guessing is often standard procedure, regardless of how demonstrable  the accomplishment might be.  While emotionally intelligent managers may be in fact most effective, this and other studies demonstrate that they are in any event going to have the interpersonal skills to align legal staff and professionals on the same side.  Given the challenge of creating supportive cultures for growth and accomplishment in law organizations, identifying these kinds of leaders becomes imperative.

Two major subscores make up the MSCEIT total score.  In the study above, Experiential EI, which includes perceiving and using emotions, was found to be very highly correlated with high supervisor ratings, whereas the Reasoning EI subscore, which includes understanding and managing emotions, displayed no significant correlation.

Our study of emotional intelligence and lawyers (also using the MSCEIT) indicates that lawyers’ scores in EI are generally a standard deviation below the general population (that is, 85 compared to 100).  In addition, lawyers score significantly lower on the Experiential subgroup than on the Reasoning one.  Their ability to "read" their own and others’ emotions is notably low compared to the general population, and they also are not facile at "using" emotions, i.e., moving from a less appropriate emotion to a more appropriate one.  Their Reasoning scores are usually significantly higher than the Experiential ones, lawyers being evidently well-suited to logically analyze even the emotional realm.  The problem is that weakness in reading emotions creates a garbage-in, garbage-out result when that reasoning horsepower is applied to inaccurate information.  So lawyers often get blind-sided by what they hadn’t originally correctly perceived .

This finding as to the importance of Experiential EI to effective management can be critical in the case of managing lawyers.  Not only should we be grooming our young lawyers to be emotionally intelligent managers, but we should also be specifically rewarding those who are expert at recognizing and using emotions, an item I would bet is not currently on any evaluation form.