December 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW4

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Extension Organization of the Future: Linking Emotional Intelligence and Core Competencies

Recruiting, hiring, and keeping desirable employees have been fundamental goals in institutions since before the Industrial Revolution. Traditionally, developing an exceptional workforce has been a hit-or-miss process. Recently, however, national and international organizations like Amoco, Dupont, Federal Express, and the Texas Agricultural Extension Service building a workforce for the 21st century. have developed competency models to lure and keep good workers. Part of competency models is the idea that high emotional intelligence is valuable. Emotional Intelligence and competencies are a natural fit, and they will, no doubt, become increasingly popular as organizations recognize their importance in building a workforce for the 21st century.

Deliece Ayers
Extension Associate
Internet address:

Barbara Stone
Extension Planning and Performance Specialist

Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas


Recruiting, hiring, and keeping desirable employees are fundamental goals in institutions. Developing an exceptional workforce, however, has usually been a hit-and-miss process. Traditionally, organizations have relied on scholastic achievement, standardized tests, and an assortment of other pedagogical measures to recruit and keep good workers; oftentimes decisions about hiring have been made within the first thirty seconds of an interview.

In 1973, however, David C. McClelland, in a paper titled "Testing for Competence Rather Than Intelligence," related what every public school teacher knows: academic over-achievers are not always the most successful people in their professions (Spencer and Spencer, 1993). McClelland concluded that job selection and performance should be based on desired, observable behaviors, instead of on traditional standardized tests.

National and international companies like Amoco, Dupont, Federal Express, Proctor and Gamble, and Sony are developing competency models to improve the quality of the employees hired and to improve employee performance in the workplace. A national survey of American employers revealed that six of seven desired traits for entry-level workers were non-academic (Goleman, 1998, pp. 12-13). The six were about Emotional Intelligence (EI), defined as "an understanding of how you and others feel, and what to do about it" (Sims, 1998. p. E2).

A 1996-97 study of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service was designed to identify outstanding characteristics of Extension educators. The results were similar to the business survey. The majority of core competencies related to emotional intelligence. This paper discusses emotional intelligence as it relates to a competency model for a large Extension organization.

Emotional Intelligence

Generations ago, John Adams, Robert E. Lee and others understood the concept of emotional intelligence. They valued ambition, achievement, flexibility, and sensitivity and knew that people could learn to delay immediate self-gratification (Eicher, 1997; Ellis, 1994). More recently, authors like Daniel Goleman (1998) and Hendrie Weisinger (1998) have discussed the importance of emotional intelligence at work.

Emotional intelligence at work is the ability to understand yourself and others well enough to express emotions in a healthy way, which is critical to job success and career satisfaction (Sims, 1998). Goleman says that professionally successful people have high emotional intelligence in addition to the traditional cognitive intelligence or specialized content knowledge (Goleman, 1998, Linkage Conference). For example, having the expertise to conduct soil sample analyses is important, but it is critical to have the ability to communicate in an effective and sensitive way when the soil results need to be interpreted, or when they are late, or when another sample is needed because the first one was lost or inappropriately secured, or when one of the five or six people you have to work with to get the analyses done is argumentative or uncooperative.

Likewise, it may be important to be able to successfully execute an Extension program, but it may be more essential to be able to effectively interpret more non-traditional programs and graciously retire programs that no longer add value, and then effectively communicate the decision to loyal customers. Similarly, it is good to be technologically adept, but it is invaluable to be able to accept the ambiguity that comes with change, or with the evolution of a project, or with working with diverse groups of people. Successful people, then, have high-level critical thinking skills, technical expertise, and, most importantly, emotional maturity/emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence and Core Competencies

In his book, Emotional Intelligence...Why it can matter more than IQ, Goleman states that self-motivation, self-control, persistence, and zeal are all a part of Emotional Intelligence (Goleman, 1997). Not surprisingly, these behaviors are also associated with core competencies. Competencies are desired behaviors, and core competencies are "personal competencies required of everyone..." (Anderson, 1998, p. 211).

Core competencies identified in the Texas Extension study paralleled the emotional intelligence competencies. For example, "Personal Learning/Self-Development," "Achievement Motivation," and "Initiative" are part of the Extension Competency Model. The definitions of these competencies feature emotional intelligence characteristics. For instance, Personal Learning/Self-Development is defined by the authors as "an important part of creativity in which a person is willing to consider different ideas, and is willing to change and grow according to legitimate feedback from others."

Because emotional intelligence can better predict job success than traditional measures, and because it can be learned, emotional intelligence in competency curriculum development is practical and advisable. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service has begun writing competency activities that introduce emotional intelligence concepts and that develop emotional intelligence attributes. In the Organizational Savvy Competency, participants who seek to develop this competency are asked to summarize ideas about social harmony, group dynamics, and academic talent as they relate to emotional intelligence.

Employees who wish to increase their organizational savvy are asked to record when they have provided leadership for a collaborative project, when they have tried to meet new agents by calling and welcoming them to Extension, and when they have identified national and international trends that might affect the Extension organization. Other activities in the Organizational Savvy Competency refer interested employees to books and web sites that keep them current about a broad scope of Extension programs.

In the Personal Learning/Self-Development Competency, participants are encouraged to take assigned personality tests for self-awareness and interpersonal understanding in the "Activities" section. In the Initiative Competency, employees are encouraged to look for several alternatives before making a decision; they are asked to practice this skill and record their experiences.

These competency-based, development activities help employees increase their emotional intelligence, and they help them to strengthen areas they have personally identified, or that have been identified by their colleagues or supervisors.


The current emphasis on emotional intelligence supported the identified Extension core competencies in the sense that the Extension competencies were comparable to emotional intelligence competencies. Emotional intelligence and competencies are a natural fit, and they will, no doubt, become increasingly popular as Extension organizations recognize the importance of emotional intelligence and competencies in building the Extension workforce for the 21st century.


Anderson, R. (1998, November). Introduction to competency-based systems (Part 1, p 211). Pre-conference workshop at The 5th International Conference & Exposition on Using Competency-Based Tools & Applications to Drive Organizational Performance. Conference presented by Linkage, Inc., One Forbes Road, Lexington, MA.

Eicher, D.J. (1997). Robert E. Lee: A life portrait. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company.

Ellis, J. (1994). Passionate sage: The character and legacy of John Adams. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Goleman, D. (1997). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. NY: Bantam.

Goleman, D. (1998, November). The compelling business case for developing emotional intelligence competencies. Keynote address at The 5th International Conference & Exposition on Using Competency-Based Tools & Applications to Drive Organizational Performance. Conference presented by Linkage, Inc., One Forbes Road, Lexington, MA.

Sims, B. (1998, November 8). Handling emotions while on the job. The Eagle, p. E2.

Spencer, Jr., L.M., & Spencer, S.M. (1993). Competence at work: Models for superior performance. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Weisinger, H. (1998). Emotional intelligence at work. San Francisco: Jossy-Bass.