Monthly Archives: March 2016

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