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Priming the Organization for Change with Emotional Intelligence

Organizational change can be an exceptionally daunting task. It involves many different work streams to function together in total concert, including, but not limited to, timely project management, securing adequate funding, acquiring change management expertise, and creating change champions. According to Ken Blanchard (2010), up to 70% of change efforts fail. In order to ensure success, the change leader will need to draw upon a broad set of competencies and abilities, as well as a balanced set of emotional skills, in order to successfully guide the organization through change.

According to John Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change, the precise flow includes “creating a sense of urgency, building a guiding collation, form a strategic vision, enlist a volunteer army, enable action by removing barriers, generate short term wins, sustain acceleration, and institute change” (Kotter, 2007).

Adapted from Kotter 2016

In order to prime the organization for the upcoming change, steps 1 and 2 are vital building blocks to the change effort, and the proposed transformation will most certainly fail without a strong start. A change management consultant can wield emotional intelligence effectively in steps 1 and 2 to prime the organization for the upcoming opportunity and to lay the foundation for a prosperous change.

According to the Bar-On model of emotional intelligence, the Interpersonal Composite within the EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Intelligence assessment “includes Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, and Social Responsibility. This facet of emotional intelligence measures one’s ability to develop and maintain relationships based on trust, articulate an understanding of another’s perspective, and act responsibly while showing concern for the organization” (Bar-On, 2002).

Interpersonal Relationships refers to how skilled one is in developing and maintaining mutually satisfying relationships based on trust and compassion.

Empathy is recognizing and understanding how someone else feels, and includes the ability to articulate that understanding in a respectful way.

Social Responsibility involves acting responsibly, having social consciousness and showing concern for the larger organization.

It’s All About Balance

The idea isn’t to simply “raise” the use of these skills within the change leader, as overuse of these emotional intelligence skills can often be just as detrimental as underuse. The emotional intelligence of the change leader must be managed by an I/O psychologist or executive coach in order to ensure success.

Balanced Interpersonal Relationship ability gives a change consultant the ability to bond quickly with others, which will be vital when priming the organization for change.

Individuals with Low Interpersonal Relationship skill are often isolated from others and are considered socially withdrawn, cold, unfriendly, hard to like, or are hard to get to know. These characteristics prove detrimental when trying to build a guiding coalition, since oftentimes that step involves trying to convince others of an unrealized vision, which might prove difficult if the change leader isn’t well liked or understood.

Conversely, individuals with too High Interpersonal Relationship skill can be too free or disclosing of personal data, too demanding of disclosure from others, co-dependent, or unwilling to work alone. Starting change management efforts can often be lonely at the beginning, and personal walls will erect quickly within others once change plans start to become socialized, so being too expectant of disclosure from others can shut down eventual change champions before the change leader has an ability to add them to the coalition.

Having balance in Interpersonal Relationship skill ensures that everyone feels that the change is begin done with them and not to them, and ensures that the vagueness that accompanies the start of the effort doesn’t create walls in others that are insurmountable to the change leader.

Balanced Empathy ability generally leads a change leader to be sensitive, aware, and appreciative of how other people feel, which will be vital when rooting out oppositions of change within individuals in steps 1 and 2 of the process.

Individuals with Low Empathy skill are often inattentive, uncompassionate, selfish, or self-centered. These characteristics make creating a sense of urgency and creating a guiding coalition impossible if others feel that the change leader is only attempting institutional change for egocentric reasons.

Conversely, individuals with too High Empathy skill include emotional dependence, dishonesty derived from holding back bad news, conflict avoidance, or a dysfunctional attachment to other people’s emotions. Building a guiding coalition requires change leaders to be attentive to others’ needs, while being firm and honest about the upcoming change. Oftentimes, upcoming change means bad news and possible conflict for someone or some group, and being too empathetic can lead to a withholding of vital information out of fear of hurting others.

Having balance in Empathy skill is vital to creating and sustaining a guiding coalition, and ensuing unbiased communication throughout the opportunity.

Balanced Social Responsibility is the ability to keep in mind the welfare of the larger organization during the change effort, which will be fundamental when creating urgency for the upcoming change, to portray that the change effort isn’t at odds with larger organizational goals.

Individuals with Low Social Responsibility skill are often unencumbered by rules or group expectations and often are insensitive to others’ needs, socially irresponsible, and pay little attention to the organization or surrounding environment. This can lead to the development of a change plan that is on an eventual collision course with larger organizational goals.

Conversely, those with too High Social Responsibility skill sometimes act like a martyr and may put organizational needs ahead of the current change initiative, be overly sensitive to others’ needs, or could derail the change effort at the first instance of conflict with organizational goals.

Having balance in Social Responsibility ensures that the change leader doesn’t cannibalize existing organizational goals with the upcoming change effort, but also doesn’t sacrifice the change effort at the first sign of larger organizational tension.

Don’t Just Manage Change, Lead It

The change leader will become the focal point of the business transformation, and it will be up to the change leader to make critical and timely decisions and communicate effectively to all levels of the stakeholder map. Developing the emotional intelligence within the change consultant, with an assessment such as the EQ-i 2.0, will ensure that the practitioner is equipped to deal with the stress and reactions of the opportunity. Much like a first impression, most change efforts only get one chance to get it right, and with over 70% of change efforts failing, priming the organization for the upcoming change with emotional intelligence, dramatically increases the chance of change success.


Bar-On, R. (2002). EQ-i Technical Manual. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Blanchard, K. (2010). Mastering the Art of Change. Retrieved from

Kotter, J. (2007). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Retrieved from

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