I believe that most of us accept that the old ways of doing business no longer work: the increasingly intense competitive challenges of the world economy, post the recent financial meltdown, challenge everyone, everywhere to adapt in order to prosper under new rules. Those who cannot – or will not – change are withering.

For example, in the old economy, hierarchies pitted labour against management, with workers paid wages depending on their skills, but that is eroding as the rate of change accelerates. Those same hierarchies are being replaced by networks; labour and management are uniting into teams; wages are coming in new mixtures of options, incentives and ownership; fixed jobs melt into fluid careers.

As business changes, so do the traits needed to survive, let alone excel, and all these transitions put increased value on emotional intelligence.

Competitive pressures put a new value on people who are self-motivated, show initiative, have the inner drive for outdoing themselves, and are optimistic enough to take reversals and setbacks in their stride. The ever-pressing need to serve customers and clients well and to work smoothly and creatively with an ever more diverse range of people makes the ability to empathize all the more essential.

At the same time, the meltdown of those old hierarchies increases the importance of traditional people skills such as building bonds, influence and collaboration. And that is as true for employers as it is for employees.

The task of the leader draws on a wide range of personal skills. Research has shown that emotional competence makes the crucial difference between mediocre leaders and the best. Indeed, emotional competence makes up about two thirds of the ingredients of star performance in general, but for outstanding leaders emotional competencies – as opposed to technical or cognitive cues – make up 80 to 100% of those listed by companies as crucial for success.

Star performers show significantly greater strengths in a range of emotional competencies, such as the skills of persuasion, team leadership, political awareness, self-confidence, and achievement drive.

Empathy, one of the key elements of emotional intelligence, is central to good management; it is difficult to have a positive impact on others without first sensing how they feel and understanding their position.

People who are poor at reading emotional cues and inept at social interactions are very poor at influencing others in the workplace, and empathy has become more relevant as the whole world of work changes.

Virtually everyone who has a superior is part of at least one vertical ‘couple’ in the workplace; every boss forms such a bond with each subordinate. Such vertical couples are a basic unit of organisational life. Therein lays the blessing or the curse: This interdependence ties a subordinate and superior together in a way that can become highly charged. If both do well emotionally – if they form a relationship of trust and rapport, understanding and inspired effort – their performance will shine. But if things go emotionally awry, the relationship can become a nightmare and their performance a series of minor and major disasters.

While vertical couples have the entire emotional overlay that power and compliance bring to a relationship, peer couples – our relationships with co-workers – have a parallel emotional component, something akin to the pleasures, jealousies and rivalries of siblings.

If there is anywhere emotional intelligence needs to enter an organisation, it is at this most basic level.

Building collaborative and fruitful relationships begins with the couples we are a part of at work.

Bringing emotional intelligence to a working relationship can pitch it towards the evolving, creative, mutually engaging end of the continuum; failing to do so heightens the risk of a downward drift towards rigidity, stalemate and failure.

Emotional intelligence is that important ….