Category Archives: Leadership

One more time: What Makes a Leader?

One more time:   What Makes a Leader?

. . . Benefitting from the work of Dr. Daniel Goleman

Over the past 15 years I’ve read more than my share of articles and books on Leadership, Management, and Entrepreneurship.  I’m also aware there now have been about 10,000 different studies into the definition and implications of leadership, not to mention a mind-bending number of articles and case studies that highlight one of more characteristics of what it means to be a leader.

One article that takes on greater and greater value for me each year is that of Daniel Goleman, “What Makes a Leader,” found in the November-December, 1998 issue of Harvard Business Review.  The ideas in the article come largely from the groundbreaking work by Goleman published in 1995 under the title, Emotional Intelligence.

This is one of those few pieces of writing that I keep coming back to over and over to help me recalibrate where I am in terms of understanding what it really means to effectively lead people.  I am only one of what must be a countless number of leaders, managers, academicians, or plain ordinary folks who have benefitted enormously from his penetrating insights.

As vital as IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and technical skills are to leadership, Goleman showed that Emotional Intelligence (EI) was and still is the sine quo non (‘without which, not’) of leadership.  He correctly and convincingly pointed out that a person can have the best training in the world, be gifted with an incisive, analytical mind, have an endless supply of brilliant, innovative ideas, and still not make a great leader.

In Goleman’s research, EI proved to be twice as important to leadership as technical skills and cognitive skills combined—-where purely technical skills would include abilities such as accounting and planning, and cognitive skills would include proficiencies such as analytical reasoning and critical thinking (particularly big-picture thinking and long-term vision).

Further, Goleman showed “the higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence capabilities showed up as the reason for his or her effectiveness.”  In other words, as one moves up toward the highest levels of leadership within an organization, the more EI capabilities showed up as the single most important driver of effectiveness in leadership.

Rather than having a carefully-worded, formal definition of Emotional Intelligence, we might better understand it by looking at what it does, and how it expresses itself at work, on the job.

Goleman’s construct of EI had five components.  The first three are about self-management skills, and the remaining two concern a person’s ability to manage relationships with others:

Self-Awareness means having an ability to assess oneself realistically and candidly.  This leads self-aware people to have an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, emotions, needs and drives, and be honest and realistic about them.  People with a high degree of self-awareness recognize how their feelings affect themselves, other people, and performance on the job.  Self-aware people tend to know where they are going, and why.  They have a growing understanding of their values and goals, and try to make decisions that are consistent with them.  Self-aware people tend to be secure and self-confident, to the point they can invite constructive criticism, as well as ask for help when it is needed.  Hallmarks of a self-aware person will include self-confidence, realistic self-assessment, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.  People who can assess themselves honestly and accurately will be ideally suited to do the same for the organizations they lead.

Self-Regulation means being in control of one’s feelings and impulses (being “reasonable”) as opposed to being held captive by them.  This ability has been compared to having an ongoing inner conversation with oneself that fosters the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods, to think before acting.  Self-regulation enables one to suspend judgment, seek out information, ask questions, and form intelligent, informed decisions.  Self-regulation enables a leader to create an environment of trust and fairness, as well as one that can adjust rapidly to frequent, unsettling changes.  Hallmarks of self-regulated people include trustworthiness and integrity, being comfortable with ambiguity, and openness to change.

Motivation means having a drive to achieve beyond expectations, either self-expectations or those imposed by others.   Motivation suggests a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement in contrast to received rewards for achievement.  Traits of motivated people usually include four things: (1) a passion for the work itself; (2) forever raising the bar on performance; (3) a love for keeping score to track progress and measure performance; and, (4) a deep commitment to the organization.  Hallmarks of motivated people include a strong desire to achieve, optimism even in the face of failure, and organizational commitment.

Empathy means “thoughtfully considering employees’ feelings—along with other factors—in the process of making intelligent decisions.”  Empathy involves an ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people, then skillfully treating them according to their emotional reactions to given circumstances.  Strangely, the word “empathy” has a sort of un-businesslike like sound, as if it is misplaced in the business community.  For that and other reasons, empathy tends not to be recognized, praised, or appropriately rewarded.   Empathy fosters the ability to manage relationships with other people.  Hallmarks of people who demonstrate high levels of empathy include expertise in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity, and service to clients and customer.

Social Skill represents a culmination of the preceding four components of EI, and means “friendliness with a purpose,” friendliness that includes the ability to move people in the direction you desire.  Socially-skilled leaders are particularly adept at managing teams and are expert in the art of persuasion.  They have a knack for finding common ground with people of all kinds, for building effective rapport with them.  Socially-skilled leaders know that, if a task is to be done, it will only be done through people, frequently through teams of people.  Hallmarks of socially-skilled people include effectiveness in leading change, persuasiveness in the best sense of the word, and expertise in building and leading teams.

It has been shown repeatedly that the lack of Emotional Intelligence, as evidenced by the inability to build and maintain an effective team of people, is the number one cause of leadership and management “derailment” on the part of promising, rapidly-advancing executives.  This lack of EI accounts for more executive derailment than all other forms of failure combined.

Who among us, at one time or another, has not encountered people (a boss, a fellow worker) with low emotional intelligence?   It is not unusual to hear them described as self-absorbed and self-promoting, insensitive and uncaring, arrogant and egotistical, even cruel and mean-spirited.

The good news is that with a good amount of personal desire and concerted effort, together with the help of peers, coaches, and possibly a mentor, Emotional Intelligence can be learned.  The process is not easy; it takes considerable time and a deep commitment to break up old nonproductive behavioral patterns and adopt new, effective ones.

Question:   One more time, Daniel Goleman:  What Makes a Leader?

Likely Answer:   More than any other prerequisite, a high level of Emotional Intelligence.  And, in addition, a lot of good, old-fashioned IQ and technical ability.


Sources:   (1) Goleman, Daniel (1998, November-December) What Makes A Leader?  Harvard

                       Business Review, 35-43

(2) Goleman, Daniel (1995) Emotional Intelligence.  New York:  Bantam Books


Don M. Hull



“Managing the Invisibles”

“Managing The Invisibles”

The Article:

Zweig, David (2014, May) Managing the “Invisibles”.  Harvard

                 Business Review, 96-103

Based on the book:  Zweig, David (2014, 2015) Invisibles: Celebrating the

          Unsung Heroes of the Workplace.  New York: Portfolio/Penguin

There’s something about this concept that resonates with me quickly and strongly.  Perhaps it’s because I think I may be one of them—the “Invisibles.” Or at least I tilt heavily in that direction as a worker, as a person.

“Invisibles” have gained that label because they are viewed as “extremely capable and committed professionals who could easily succeed in high-profile careers but instead gravitate to work that is outside the spotlight.”   Invisibles are all over the place and in every field of endeavor.  Included in their traits is disdaining personal attention and refusing to spend any time or effort on self-promotion.

Invisibles are perfectly content to be anonymous, to live and work without recognition, which flies in the face of our culture known for its aggressive self-absorption and its self-seeking credit and recognition.  If our age is known for anything, it is about seeking the limelight, making sure we are known and appreciated, and that our interests are served,  preferably first.

This presents a real challenge for those of us in leadership and management.  The “Invisibles” in our organization, so critical to innovation and professional excellence, are likely to go unnoticed altogether.  The irony is that this anonymity is what Invisibles prefer as their personal default position.   But “Invisibles” are still people, and our failure to recognize that they, too, have real needs is the fatal first step to taking them completely for granted, thus running the high risk of losing them altogether and the extraordinary value they can bring to our organization.

Zweig cites three traits that describe an “Invisible.”  They are:

  1. Ambivalence toward recognition.   Herein lies one of the greatest paradoxes of an Invisible:  the better you are at what you do, the more you tend to just go “poof” and disappear off organizational radar.  Anything that is self-aggrandizing, that requires courting personal praise, fame, and recognition, is a grievous, colossal waste of time that could have been spent doing significant work.

The better and happier an Invisible becomes at what they do is inversely proportional to the recognition and attention they want, the kind most people crave with sometimes sickening zeal.  What seems to gratify the Invisible most is the work itself.

  1. Meticulousness.  Deeply embedded in the work ethic of the Invisible is an extraordinary attention to detail, an unyielding commitment to the highest level of excellence, and being methodical, meticulous, and punctilious sometimes to the extreme of seeming petulant and “fussy.”  The Invisible is committed to nothing less than the best—an unbending, non-negotiable, unyielding resolve that holds him and his work to the highest possible standard of quality and excellence, yet without becoming a “perfectionist” in an unhealthy or destructive sense.
  2. Savoring of responsibility.   Another paradox (or is it irony?) about the Invisible:  when they do their jobs perfectly, they are rarely or never thought of.  It’s only in the rare case when something goes wrong is attention ever directed toward them.  Zweig observes, “Invisibles show us that power and visibility are not always aligned.  We might think that the person at the top of the pyramid, the front of the stage, or the head of the boardroom table is the one with all the responsibility, but it’s often someone unknown to the public who bears much of the weight.”

Leaders and managers today are more likely than ever to overlook the “Invisibles” in their organization as well as neglect their needs.   This is because we have created a culture of personal horn tooting that leaves us drowning in what the author calls “A Culture of Noise.”   We struggle to discern any quiet signals of actual quality and achievement, to separate the hype, the “buzz,” or the “spin” something is given from what may be authentic.

Our amped up era of self-promotion and self-advancement makes the Invisible even more difficult to see and hear, and, almost ironically, increasingly more valuable to us.   This is true whether one’s organization is a church, civic organization, government agency, educational institution, a high profile business, or a non-profit doing noble work.   The advent of social media has only enabled and amplified the growing, and sometimes seemingly desperate, attempts to attract attention to self, to one’s causes, to one’s special interests.   Some observers draw the comparison between addictions and personal use of social media.  The desire for more and more ever increases, yet is never satisfying or capable of making one happy or content.  The cure offered for the problems noise creates is simply to turn up the volume and create more channels to gain personal recognition.

The quiet sense of self and overriding commitment to one’s work found in the Invisible, and the happiness produced by it, is what makes him or her so antithetical to our present work culture.   The work ethic and style of many Invisibles could not be at greater odds, or run more “cross-grain” with that of our work climate.  Yet, for many organizations, the quiet Invisible simply going about his or her work in a spirit of professionalism and excellence is the very antidote needed to cure some of the noise.

Though Invisibles will assert that they do not want attention and praise, wise leaders and managers will still appropriately acknowledge them as leaders, role models, as the best of what it means to be a member of a team.  This is to ensure their satisfaction on the job, to assign value to their important work, and raise the overall engagement and performance of all other employees across the board.

Zweig has three specific suggestions for leaders and managers at the point of Invisibles: (1) simply recognize who their Invisibles are within the organization, (2) decide if you want more Invisibles on your team to provide a “bigger dose of their enviable work ethic and quest for excellence,” and (3) appropriately and fairly reward them for their work, despite how hard they may attempt to keep you from doing exactly that.

According to Invisibles, what does more than anything else to motivate them or “light their fire,” is (1) an opportunity to develop their craft, (2) to work in an environment that enables them to focus on what they do best, and (3) to see that their work matters, that they are making a difference.

 *  *  *

Personal Reflections:   This insightful article was not written from a Christian perspective, nor was it written for a Christian audience.  I get tremendous benefit from this article just the way it was designed and written, and deeply appreciate it for what it is.

Yet it strikes me that the word “Invisible” speaks volumes about how the maturing Christian ought to live, work, and serve.  To selfishly call attention to one’s work for the purpose of self-promotion or to seek the praise of others is to work at cross-grain with everything it means to live and work in the style of a “servant.”   Jesus spoke about this:  “Let him who would be great among you, be your servant.”  Again, “I came not to be served, but to serve.”

The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, warned:  “Seekest thou great things for thyself?  Seek them not. . . .” (45:4)

The phrase “do good and disappear” has taken on new meaning for me as a result of reading this article.