Emotional Intelligence in Leadership – Friend or Foe?

I would like to start with a small imagination exercise that will allow you to use the right to choose. Let us assume, you are the manager of a news agency and have to share at an employee’s meeting that one of the divisions will be soon closed.

    1. You start by presenting the results of the division, facts and figures, the reality. You talk about the market difficulties, the surpassing results of your competitors, the current financial situation affecting your company and then getting into the difficulty of making the decision of closing down the activity of your division. Trying to break the sadness of the news, you make some jokes and end your speech in a relaxed note.
    2. You break in the news, you speak from your heart about your beliefs regarding the value of journalism to the vibrancy of a society, how important it is to have a calling for this rather financially restricted field invoking the passion and dedication you have observed among your employees and ending up by wishing them good luck in their careers.


Now, the question is: Which of the two leaders would you want to be? Would you go for the one with a straight approach to the problem or rather the one who talks about his beliefs and tries to inspire his group? Well, if you choose to pick the first one, then you should hire a bodyguard because, as happened in a real life story at BBC, he had to call security. If you choose the second one, then bring in some tissues because at the end of your speech people will applaud you.

What stands behind all this is called Emotional Intelligence (EI). Although the concept is significantly related to the context it appears in, a broad definition of it already signals some traits. Emotional Intelligence represents an ability to validly reason with emotions and to use emotions to enhance thought. So, EI implies one’s skills in discerning, understanding and disseminating emotional information.


However, what does that have to do with leaders?

Aren’t we all used to classic historical models of leadership that portray bold autocratic, charismatic or even despotic figures? Luckily, Napoleon has left the building before the era of technology, participation, democratization and independence of the workforce and markets. These new features of our society demand a lot more from a leader. A crowded market elevates the need of keeping investors and colleagues close, which implies a generous and people oriented leader. Vision, courage and intuition keep a leader’s eyes on achieving its goals, observing and trying out new development opportunities. Openness allows a leader to retain and to motivate great people in an environment where people demand to be involved. Emotional and inspiring attributes of a leader help him spread his enthusiasm and beliefs, which actually increase sales. Simon Sinek couldn’t emphasize this any better in a very inspiring TED presentation, by studying and coming up with a simple “Why?How?What?” scheme as fundamental for current successful business models. Inspiring leaders address the question “Why?” first based on the assumption that their public tends to respond positively to those messages and values that fit their own beliefs.


Although he does not mention EI in his presentation, clearly he refers to its traits by rating a leader’s success according to his or her way of connecting, inspiring, motivating and sharing with their audience.

As seen with the BBC example and those mentioned in Simon’s presentation, I believe there are plenty of reasons for us and leaders to overcome the classic stereotype describing a leader as an exclusively authoritarian figure. On the contrary, their authority and success be it within the company or the market, are mostly the result of leadership based on emotional intelligence.


Header Image(s) from Pixabay & Gratisography

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