Why haven’t we yet mastered the art of relating in organisations?

When Daniel Goleman brought Emotional Intelligence into the consciousness of executives it solved a puzzle. The puzzle was why those with high IQ consistently underperformed in organisations compared with those with average IQ. The missing piece of the jigsaw was EQ.

The EQ/Emotional Intelligence model continues to be fundamental in leadership development. And it has legs for years to come because it names something fundamental to our nature as social beings. It says that leaders need to know and manage themselves, as well as be sensitive to others in order to have effective relationships.

Today, however, we find ourselves with a new puzzle. Why is it that well-developed, mature, emotional intelligent leaders still need lots more support with their relationships at work?

Here are things that leaders still say after years of leadership experience and development:

  1. I struggle with conflict
  2. I find it hard to make myself heard in my team
  3. I don’t know how to respond when someone interrupts me
  4. I daren’t challenge my boss
  5. I can easily feel intellectually inferior and clam up
  6. I find it hard to admit that I might be wrong
  7. In a difficult conversation I struggle to work out how I am feeling and can’t put it into words

These are not teenagers, not kids but mature adults who have had many hours of leadership development. So what’s missing?


We believe there is something fundamental missing from the leadership development curriculum. We are calling it WeQ. This is term used elsewhere so let’s try and define what we mean by it.

WeQ is relational agility – it is our ability to put Daniel Goleman’s model of Emotional Intelligence practice, choosing our responses to another person in each moment and each context with fluidity.

Underlying this relational agility is of course all of the factors of Emotional Intelligence:

Higher purpose
Self Awareness
Self Management
Awareness of others

And in addition we would highlight an overlooked factor Emotional Courage – the willingness to be vulnerable in relationships. Brain scans have demonstrated that social risk has the same neurological effect as physical risk. The prospect of having a courageous conversation can makes us feel as terrified as the prospect of a bloody fight. To practice this level of emotional courage is hard enough in our most intimate, trusted relationships. No wonder we find it difficult at work.

Our fundamental belief is that the courage it takes to really apply Emotional Intelligence in relationships is not sufficiently supported in organisations. Our WeQ programmes and the pairs coaching that go alongside them seek to address this huge gap in support.

What is our approach to teaching WeQ?

1 WeQ is about learning IN relationships not ABOUT relationships

Leadership Development has focused on educating individual leaders about emotional intelligence and sending them out of the classroom to use the tools unsupported. WeQ helps leaders real time in their relationships in the classroom. It involves working live, in pairs and being coached live, in pairs.

2 WeQ is a systemic lens on relationships

In any relationship that are two “I”s, two versions of the truth, two stories about what’s going on. And in any relationship, what’s going on is being co-created consciously or unconsciously by both parties. Leaders tend to be able to see and name what individuals are doing but it’s a different skill entirely to be able to see and name what we are doing ‘between us’. WeQ gives leaders this new lens on relationships.

3 WeQ provides a new language for conversations

Our existing models for giving feedback or having difficult conversations are woefully inadequate and often clumsily applied. Too many people have been damaged by the feedback sandwich and too many leaders have struggled for the right words to express something that needs to be said. WeQ provides a new lexicon around relationships and new frameworks for what is going on in relationships.

4 WeQ addresses issues of vulnerability and courage in relationships

The difficulties we find in our relationships are related to deeply held patterns of relating from our family systems and early development. If we are to help people with their fear of conflict, their embarrassment about praise, their difficulty with politics and power, we need to really get under the skin of each individual’s personal habits of connecting.

5 WeQ is positive without being unrealistic

Firstly, our approach to WeQ does not just focus on difficult relationships, it is as useful for accelerating relationships from good to great. However we do not avoid nor underestimate the sense of hopelessness that can exist around difficult relationships. We can feel powerless to change something that feels stuck in a pattern. WeQ brings an optimism to these difficulties, offering practical tools and language and a paradigm shift in the way we approach apparently unfixable scenarios.

Theoretical Underpinnings

In order to find answers to the puzzle of why mature leaders still struggle with relationships we have drawn heavily on research and practice from the world of couples and family therapy and the study of intimate systems. The body of work that we are most influenced by came out of the Centre for the Study of Intimate Systems in Cleveland, USA which was set up in the Gestalt tradition by students of Fritz Perls in the 1960s. Sonia and Edwin Nevis along with Joe Melnick of the Cleveland Group went on to found the Gestalt International Study Centre in Cape Cod. Lucy Ball is a professional associate at the Gestalt International Study Centre and Gaynor Sharp is a Gestalt Psychotherapist who trained at the Edinburgh Gestalt Institute and works with couples as well as individuals.