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Emotional intelligence and leadership. A story of empathy, communication and success


“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” – Daniel Goleman (1995), apud. John O. Dozier (2010) The Weeping, The Window, The Way.

As far as intelligence concerns nowadays, IQ is no longer exhaustively used to illustrate excellence in life, and it has been slowly replaced by the concept of emotional intelligence. Several studies have shown that this innovative science represents the key concept of human relationships these days. Emotional intelligence deals with perceiving, controlling and evaluating emotions.

Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, the leading researchers on emotional intelligence, defined the concept as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” Daniel Goleman’s works follow in the steps of Salovey and Mayer, dealing with key factors, such as emotional intelligence, social intelligence, IQ, focus, leadership, brain training etc.

Since 1990, emotional intelligence has embraced various forms and has developed numerous meanings and benefits. The most recently discovered benefit of emotional intelligence is represented by the power brought to the leadership. Understanding the key role of the emotional response system can lead to discovering how to place team members within the organization. An excellent team is the result of being able to relate behaviors and challenges of emotional intelligence on workplace performance.

A good leader has to be able to manage the needs, wants and expectations of those he leads. The most common challenge of emotional intelligence is the communication deficiency. With time, this aspect leads to serious disengagement issues and doubts. Leaders have to know how to react and how to manage their emotions in order not to create mistrust among their staff. They have to be aware of the impact this aspect may have on the entire organization.

According to a Daniel Goleman’s study “What Makes a Leader?”, published in the Harvard Business Review, there are five components of emotional intelligence to be found within working contexts, namely self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. All these components develop specific emotional intelligence specific competences that a leader needs in order to succeed.

According to Goleman, each of these components has specific “hallmarks”, namely:

  • Self-awareness: self-confidence, realistic self-assessment;
  • Self-regulation: trustworthiness and integrity, comfort and ambiguity, openness to change;
  • Motivation: strong drive to achieve, optimism and organizational commitment;
  • Empathy: expertise in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity, as well as service to clients and customers;
  • Social skills: effectiveness in leading change, persuasiveness, expertise in building and leading teams.

Some key competences that emotional intelligence enables are: initiative, strategic vision, big-picture thinking, empathy, excellent communication skills, change tolerance, time management, decision making, stress tolerance, trust, assertiveness, flexibility, anger management, listening skills and the ability to anticipate reactions and to effectively deal with them. Goleman also states that the above-mentioned competences are twice as important as the technical ones or as the IQ. Therefore, emotional intelligence can lead to a strong performance and can improve the business process overall.

Successful leaders not only meet their employees’ needs and expectations, but they nurture highly productive communication and interaction, as a key success factor for an organization is the workplace atmosphere. Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be learned and developed over time, with dedication, effort and commitment.

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