One Wedding…Four Funerals!

When I was 16 I had the opportunity to work for a florist, one of the oldest businesses in town. Three of the twenty-something employees were family members, with the rest being hired help. It did not take me very long to discover that family businesses were more complex than one would care to think.

My manager (also part owner) was a generous person and cared deeply for his customers, however, he had a propensity for yelling. He would yell at his sister and uncle, who both worked there. He would yell at them in front of other employees, he would yell at them in front of customers. He was good at yelling.

He would yell at employees and, believe it or not, sometimes even customers! Yep, his temper would make Steve Jobs look like a cuddly kitten. One would think this behavior is enough to derail most employees. But why would he do this? What was his deal?

But Why?

As a young person entering the workforce, I was puzzled about why yelling was part of a business structure. To me it seemed odd that something so destructive would be part of operating a business. It wasn’t until I began my studies in psychology that I could actually label this phenomena. My manager probably had a low emotional intelligence quotient. There were a number of issues that arose from his actions:

  • He evoked negative emotional responses from his family, his employees and his customers
  • There was a high rate of turnover
  • He had a fairly negative reputation around town

and worst of all…

  • No one cared about his success or that of his business

Some may say, “Well John, he happens to be in business for himself, its not like he was selected by someone to do the job“. I would agree with almost anyone on that topic, but there is a mirror in business. And this is important to understand if you are leading people in any type of environment.

Many times organizations promote employees who are subject matter experts or who have strong technical skills. These employees may or may not be fit to lead others. They may lack much in the way of conveying vision, implementing strategy, or being able to work with or even motivate others. Being the one to promote another into a leadership role, one must be careful to assess these leadership abilities in the candidates they are looking to fill an important role. From my experience at the floral shop, I would  certainly vote for assessing candidates for their emotional intelligence.

There are many ways to assess an employee’s emotional intelligence. It may not be the only consideration when choosing to fill a leadership role, but it certainly is very important if the organization values efficiency and productivity.

Managed to Fail. Failed to Lead.

My boss failed to lead his employees. Many times he managed to alienate them and certainly kept people edgy in an already stressful business. Employees had to already worry about making floral arrangements for the important life events of their customers, or having to take orders from a grieving family. The last thing they needed was an angry tyrant ready to yell and belittle them at the drop of a hat.

My time working for the florist was one of mixed feelings for me. I found personal satisfaction in providing a high level of customer service, but was always fearful to displease my employer. Ultimately, I stay grateful for my time and experiences there. I learned much and it helped fashion me into who I am today. If it weren’t for my boss, I doubt I would be so attuned to the implications that emotional intelligence may have for leadership effectiveness.

Do you or someone else around you tend to lose their temper with your employees? What does that do to the working environment? How important is it to focus on the human side of management? How emotionally intelligent are your leaders? Does your organizational assess leaders for emotional intelligence? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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John Lovig is an HRIS Analyst at Yale University.
He can be reached at

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