The Role of Emotional Intelligence in LEAN Leadership

A Research Brief by Jeremy Jagers

March 23, 2017


Marlon WardlowMarlon Wardlow was named Chief Operating Officer of Parkview Hospital Randallia in 2015. Wardlow joined Parkview in 2014 as Vice President of Operations for Parkview Hospital Randallia. Prior to joining Parkview, Marlon was the director of performance improvement at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wardlow received a bachelor's degree in science and a master's degree in Health Services Administration, both from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich​. (Parkview Health)

What professional qualities make hospital CEO's and administrators successful? Is it skillful policy analysis, a legal wit, or the ability to operate a 10-digit with computer-like precision as we see frequently in film and television? Not necessarily. In an ongoing study performed by Dr. Ebbin Dotson and his research team at the University of Michigan's Health Equity Leadership Pipeline Collaborative (The Collaborative) find emotional intelligence (EI) is an important asset belonging to successful healthcare executives and administrators.

According to a study published in the Journal of Healthcare Management in 2002, Emotional Intelligence is a "Core Competency for Health Care Administrators". Emotional intelligence (EI for short) is "considered fundamental for getting along in the workplace and is a primary leadership and managerial competency." The study references research conducted by Richard Rosenthal of John's Hopkins School of Medicine, which found that "people who could better identify the emotions of others were more successful at work and in social settings." The authors go on to state that "in healthcare, creating virtually integrated networks have become paramount to successful operation", and quotes C. F. Dye in stating that "a healthcare leader must recognize his or her key personal values-because they dictate his or her behavior and thought processes", and defines emotional intelligence "as a combination of emotional maturity and energy."

These points were curiously similar to some made during an interview with Mr. Marlon Wardlow, the COO of Parkview Hospital Randallia. The Collaborative recently initiated a self-funded leadership pipeline pilot study in which project teams go on-site to interview healthcare leaders to elicit successful leadership competencies. Mr. Wardlow stated during an interview that what "differentiates a good LEAN (a management style and problem solving process Wardlow uses frequently) practitioner from a great LEAN practitioner is a concept called emotional intelligence," and that "having self-awareness, and understanding that because of my title, not because of my mindset, when I enter a room, immediately the interactions of that room change." Wardlow expands on this idea when explaining how his emotional intelligence and situational awareness were skills developed from an early age while living on the eastside of Detroit, and how he incorporates it into his completing of occupational tasks and issues that may arise in his day-to-day routine, as well as navigating and maintaining healthy relationships with fellow employees.

A skeptic to these findings and data may claim that while emotional intelligence may be useful to executives in healthcare, the same may not hold true for executives in the financial sector, where it is often stated that the environment is a hypercompetitive one, even cutthroat at times. However, a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology states that "overall emotional intelligence was related to performance in that 'higher emotional intelligence was associated with better scores on one measure of cognitive performance.'" Another study published in The International Journal of Organizational Analysis contains results that show "EI competencies are considered to be extremely important according to the majority of a large sample of UK directors in a survey and they go on to argue that many of the tasks (outputs) of the Board require EI competencies, as well as many aspects of Team Process (for Organizing and Running the Board). The authors also produce new findings which support Goleman's (one of the founders of the emotional intelligence theory) hypothesis that the higher one advances, the more important EI becomes."

What is exciting for the Collaborative team is that we are directly hearing from healthcare executives about the impact of EI on other leadership qualities such as LEAN philosophies. We are finding in interviews that being able to effectively manage, understand, and empathize with one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of one's coworkers and employees is becoming more of a required competency, rather than an optional one. The existing literature, in addition to the aforementioned research still in progress at The Collaborative will be used to stress the importance of emotional intelligence throughout future graduate programs and courses, and will not be limited to just one area of study. There is more research being conducted by Dr. Dotson and his team, and this study is only one, of more to come.

**Jeremy Jagers is a Research Assistant in the Health Equity Leadership Pipeline Collaborative at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. For more updates about the ongoing research, events, and news from the collaborative, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!**