L. Bordi, M. Manka, K. Heikkilä-Tammi, M.L. Manka

University of Tampere (FINLAND)
Emotional intelligence (EI) and its’ contribution to effective leadership in organizations has raised growing interest. Earlier studies indicate that emotions have a significant effect on leadership practices, making the ability to identify, understand, use and regulate emotions one of the core competencies in the leadership process. While some theories view EI as an individual personality trait, the models perceiving EI as a set of skills that can be learnt and developed have been gaining evidence. In organizations, this development has increased the interest in finding ways to develop EI of employees, especially of those in leadership positions.

This paper reports findings from a case study of an online learning program designed for emotional skills training of supervisors and managers. The aim of this study was to examine participants’ experiences and perceptions of the learning program and platform: how the learning platform was used, what supported and advanced the learning process, what problems and barriers the participants faced, as well as participants’ perceptions of the impact the program had on their emotional skills and competencies. Based on the research data, we also make suggestions on things to pay attention to when designing and implementing online learning programs for emotional skills training.

The participants of the program were supervisors and managers from eight organizations ranging from engineering to maintenance. The empirical data consisted of open-ended questions of a survey (n=21), individual in-depth interviews (n=5) and group discussions (n=10). In this paper, the method of qualitative thematic analysis was applied in all research data.

The study results show that even though the exercises in the platform were intended to be completed in the workplace, it was common for the participants to do at least some of the exercises in their free time. The participants didn’t strictly follow the designed structure of the program or the exercise instructions but rather modified them to better fit their individual situations. In fact, the opportunity to do exercises in one’s own speed and time, and to choose exercises that best fitted one’s needs were mentioned as the main factors that supported and advanced the learning. The main distraction was lack of time. Also, some of the exercises were perceived as pretentious and contrived which had negative effect on the participants’ motivation. Usability problems of the platform and lack of interaction and support were also found to impede the training.

Some of the emotional skills the participants perceived to have developed were identifying and understanding feelings, interpersonal skills and mindfulness. Findings indicate that adequate time and support, usability and user-friendliness of the platform, interaction among participants and meaningful exercises play a key role in implementing a successful online learning program for emotional skills training.