Leaders' Edge Advisor

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

By Anne Lezak

"Throughout history and in cultures everywhere, the leader in any human group has been the one to whom others look for assurance and clarity when facing uncertainty or threat, or when there's a job to be done. The leader acts as the group's emotional guide."
- Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, & Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence, 2004, Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, MA

In the book Primal Leadership, the authors build on Goleman's ground-breaking work on emotional intelligence, demonstrating the key role emotional intelligence plays in leadership. According to Goleman and colleagues, leaders can increase their emotional intelligence and thereby improve their leadership effectiveness.

The leader's style is "contagious" he or she sets the emotional tone of the group that either makes people want to come along and work towards common goals, or pushes them away and causes discomfort and uncertainty. The best leaders build resonance with their teams; they are in tune with the group's emotions and needs and are able to drive emotions positively, to bring out the best in everyone. Such leaders lead with empathy, enthusiasm, and conviction.

This doesn't mean that leaders ignore difficult situations or shrink from conflict. Rather, they are aware of their own emotional reactions to situations, and of the impact this has on those who look to them for cues. They learn to manage their emotions in ways that inspire confidence and help move people ahead. Whether they are giving good news or bad, their responses are genuine and are in sync with what the individual or group to whom they're relating is feeling.

Becoming a more effective leader means attending to the four dimensions of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: Recognizing one's own emotions and appreciating the impact they have on others; maintaining an honest understanding of your strengths and limitations; and experiencing clarity in your values and goals. Self-awareness is key to that "gut-level" intuition that we can't quite explain, but that we learn to trust.
  • Self-management: The ability to control and direct one's emotions in ways that are helpful and positive, including under stressful situations. From Primal Leadership, p. 47: "By staying in control of their feelings and impulses, [leaders] craft an environment of trust, comfort, and fairness." Leaders with strong self-management skills are able to adapt their leadership styles to match different situations, and maintain an upbeat, can-do attitude under pressure, both calming and energizing those around them.
  • Social awareness: The ability to empathize; being attuned to how others feel and what response will help them overcome their fears, bring them along, and bring out the best in them. This applies both on an individual and group level; leaders with high social awareness can sense organizational tensions, changes, and needs. Social awareness enables leaders to build resonant and lasting relationships with followers, client, and stakeholders.
  • Relationship management: Bringing together self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness to "inspire and move people with a compelling vision (Primal Leadership, P.51)." This speaks to Goleman's definition of leadership: The art of getting things done through other people. Successful leaders use their emotional intelligence to influence and guide others; establish strong networks; and build the trust and energy that enables them to lead in new directions and be catalysts for positive change.

Questions to Consider

  1. Can you think of times when your leadership style was "contagious" in a way that helped a group gain confidence to move forward or tackle tough challenges?
  2. How well do you trust your own intuition to tell you when something "just doesn't feel right"? When in a leadership role, have you ever ignored this warning signal and regretted it?
  3. Are you able to recognize your own emotional state in times of stress? Could you do better at channeling your emotions in ways that are helpful to those you lead?
  4. To what extent does the relationship between highly developed emotional intelligence and strong leadership skills make sense to you?

Please share your thoughts about this article with:
Anne Lezak, Senior Partner, Center for Community Leadership
alezak@comcast.net or call 802-775-1695

The Leaders' Edge Advisor is an occasional publication for leaders striving to make a difference in their organizations and communities.

The Center for Community Leadership provides personalized, dynamic leadership training. Our diverse faculty, all with years of hands-on experience leading system change, facilitates three-day Community Leadership Institutes and shorter workshops across the country.

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Email: gary@centerforcommunityleadership.com

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Copyright 2005 Gary De Carolis. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

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