The 5 Qualities of Leaders with High Emotional Intelligence

leaderFollowing Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, the idea of “Emotional Intelligence” (also his book title) went mainstream in discussions of leadership and successful work culture in the U.S. His 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review, reprinted below, included research from nearly 200 global companies where Goleman found that conventional “leadership” qualities – intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision—were not enough to ensure success. He showed that genuinely effective leaders are also characterized by a strong capacity for emotional intelligence, which is made up of self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, motivation and empathy.

These qualities may sound “soft” and unbusinesslike, but Goleman discovered explicit connections between emotional intelligence (what he calls the “sine qua non of leadership”) and measurable business results. While the precise relevance of emotional intelligence in business leadership has remained a persistent point of debate in the years since Goleman’s article, his work still stands as the definitive account on the subject, with comprehensive discussions of each factor in emotional intelligence, along with descriptions of how to spot it in potential leaders, how it translates into performance, and how it can be developed by individuals.  Here is Goleman’s original summary of his findings:

Every businessperson knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled executive who was promoted into a leadership position only to fail at the job. And they also know a story about someone with solid—but not extraordinary—intellectual abilities and technical skills who was promoted into a similar position and then soared.

Such anecdotes support the widespread belief that identifying individuals with the “right stuff” to be leaders is more art than science. After all, the personal styles of superb leaders vary: Some leaders are subdued and analytical; others shout their manifestos from the mountaintops. And just as important, different situations call for different types of leadership. Most mergers need a sensitive negotiator at the helm, whereas many turnarounds require a more forceful authority.

I have found, however, that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as “threshold capabilities”; that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. But my research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.

In the course of the past year, my colleagues and I have focused on how emotional intelligence operates at work. We have examined the relationship between emotional intelligence and effective performance, especially in leaders. And we have observed how emotional intelligence shows itself on the job. How can you tell if someone has high emotional intelligence, for example, and how can you recognize it in yourself? In the following pages, we’ll explore these questions, taking each of the components of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill—in turn.

Goleman’s argument is summarized in the chart above.



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