Leadership and intelligent emotions

The high performance leader is not only in regular touch with his own feelings but has the ability to readily empathize and understand the feelings of those around them.

Emotions and how we manage them determines our success at work and in life, this also happens to be the singular differentiator between good and great leaders.

There is no doubt that high performance leaders do possess certain personal qualities and attributes that enable them to reach those positions, but evidence also suggests that they have high levels of emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman states in his article, “What makes a leader”, that his research “very clearly indicates 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 it as a great leader.”

So what are these qualities that set them apart or make them great leaders?

The first, basic and most important is self-regard. High self- regard can be described as a realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses combined with a healthy sense of acceptance, equanimity and capability.

Next comes self-expression. Albert Meharbian’s study indicates that 93 per cent of our communication is nonverbal (55 per cent on body language and 38 per cent voice) and only a mere seven per cent is on words, so the bulk of our communication is outside of our control.

Which means that a low self-regard would obviously reflect on the way you express yourself or communicate, and this incongruence between your verbal and nonverbal expression would result in a lack of authenticity in your leadership.

Another emotional intelligence (EI) quality which is significant for effective leadership is empathy. The high performance leader is not only in regular touch with his own feelings but has the ability to readily empathize and understand the feelings of those around them.

In other words, this ability of a leader to step into the shoes of the other person helps him to gain perspective and a deeper understanding of others, improve communication and identify problems before they escalate.

The importance of empathy in the present context can be understood from this statement by Daniel Goleman in his article “What makes a leader” for the Harvard Business Review, August edition “Empathy plays a key role in the retention of talent particularly in today’s information economy. Leaders have always needed empathy to develop and keep good people but today the stakes are higher. When good people leave, they take the company’s knowledge with them.”

Another factor that high performing leaders exhibit in large measure is a significantly high level of optimism. Having a positive attitude and outlook in spite of setbacks and being resilient is what optimism is all about. Leaders who are optimistic have a supreme belief in their abilities, of course too much optimism is as detrimental as too little, the right balance is important.

Another crucially important determinant of emotionally intelligent leaders is the ability to defer gratification, also called impulse control.

The importance of this quality was seen at a study conducted at the Bing Nursery School located in Stanford University sometime in the Seventies.

Walter Mischel and Ebbe Ebbesen conducted this experiment which came to be called the famous “Marshmallow Test”, with the sole purpose of understanding the concept of self-control, deferred gratification, or impulse control amongst children. Children in the age group of four to six were put in a room, empty of distractions, where a marshmallow was placed in front of them, on a table, the children could eat the marshmallow, the researchers said, but if they waited for twenty minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow.

Over 600 children took part in the experiment, a small percentage ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, one-third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

The children with a strong self-control were able to sacrifice the immediate pleasure of a marshmallow in order to indulge in two marshmallows at some later point. Willpower can be thought of as a basic ability to delay gratification.

How this simple test played out in later years was fascinating, when Mischel revisited these children later in their teens, He found that children who had waited longer for the marshmallows scored considerably higher on the SAT, and they were more likely to be rated as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self-control in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted. They were also able to secure better colleges and in turn better jobs.

In general, children who were less successful at resisting the marshmallow all those years ago performed more poorly on the self-control task as adults, and were more likely to be derailed. Leaders with a robust impulse control can proactively create a vision for the future and systematically and diligently work towards achieving it, forfeiting immediate pleasures for something greater that they can achieve.

Research results to date indicate that nearly 90 per cent of high performance leaders have high emotional intelligence when tested. While poorly performing or borderline leaders have relatively low levels of emotional intelligence.

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