By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who has influenced the discipline of leadership to a greater degree over the past 20 years than psychologist, consultant, and author Daniel Goleman. Goleman is best known for popularizing the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) with his book of the same name, which was published in 1995. Since then he’s been exploring a set of learnable capabilities relating to “how well we manage ourselves and our relationships” that can be developed to enhance personal and organizational performance.
There is no better place to get an introduction or refresher course in Goleman’s oeuvre than What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters (More Than Sound, 2013). It is a collection of seven of his most important and relevant articles, originally published in Harvard Business Review and elsewhere, each with a new postscript by the author. The result is a useful combination of the theoretical and practical, all packaged into one quick read that offers aspiring leaders a great return on their time.
The collection is bookended by Goleman’s most important concepts. It starts with the HBR article in which Goleman introduced EI to business leaders. In it, he explained that while above-average intelligence and relevant technical skills were “entry-level requirements for executive positions,” research showed that the four components of EI were what makes or breaks a leader.
Self-awareness, which “shows itself as candor and an ability to assess oneself realistically,” is the first component. Goleman says that self-aware leaders are able to “speak accurately and openly…about their emotions and the impact they have on their work.” For instance, self-aware leaders realize how deadlines affect them and are able to communicate that information to their teams to ensure positive results.
Self-management—the ability to control your own moods, feelings, and emotions by acknowledging and channeling them productively—is the second component of EI. Unsurprisingly, thoughtful reflection and a passion for success turn out to be more productive for leaders than temper tantrums and sulking.
Empathy, that is, “thoughtfully considering employees’ feelings—along with other factors—in the process of making intelligent decisions,” is the third component. Goleman identifies this quality as most critical in today’s highly diverse and global business environment. And you don’t have to look much further than the headlines, which are filled with news of lawsuits between employers and employees, to see that it isn’t as common a trait as it should be.
Social skill, “friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the direction you desire,” is the fourth and final trait of EI. Leaders who cultivate this skill are good schmoozers, and while that may sound like a less-than-critical capability, Goleman finds that it is what enables us to put EI to work, making social skill “the culmination of other dimensions of emotional intelligence.”
The other bookend is composed of two articles that dive into the proper focus of leaders. “A primary task of leadership is to direct attention. Leaders tell us where to focus our energies,” writes Goleman. “But leaders need, too, to manage their own attention. Leaders who do this effectively can soar, those who do not will stumble.” To avoid stumbling, Goleman tells leaders that they need to balance their focus among three perspectives:
Inner focus is ability of leaders to concentrate on the present moment and their immediate goals. They can exercise cognitive control, which allows them to avoid the temptations of a wandering mind, and further develop the EI component of self-awareness, which ensures that they know when to turn to others for help.
Other focus is the ability to be an excellent listener and expert interpreter of other people’s words and body language. This ability is intimately related to the EI component of empathy and its variations. It enables leaders “to guide and influence, motivate and communicate with power.”
Outer focus is the awareness of the big picture both within an organization and in the larger world beyond it. Curiosity, information gathering, and the ability to frame and ask good questions are all traits of a leader with an outer focus.
“Every leader,” explains Goleman, “needs a triad of awareness – Inner, Other, and Outer – in abundance, in proper balance, and with the flexibility to exercise the right one at the right time. Too little of any one of these can make a leader vulnerable to being rudderless, clueless, or blindsided – or, worse, all three.”
It is, in fact, the many vulnerabilities that arise from a lack of awareness and emotional instability that are the best reasons for leaders to read and reread Goleman’s work.
Queue it up: What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters by Daniel Goleman