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How Emotional Intelligence Creates Effective Leaders

by Maurine Patten

Research indicates that Emotional Intelligence (E.I.) how we handle ourselves and our relationships can determine success more than I.Q. In fact, E.I. may determine as much as 80% of a person's life success. Cognitive ability or what we call I.Q. is only about 20%. Quality leadership training is a combination of E.I. and cognitive ability.

More specifically, Daniel Goleman (along with two E.I. researchers: Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee) explains the role of E.I. in leadership in Primal Leadership, Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence ( 2009). They found the most effective leadership and management styles work through emotions which evolve from the limbic system in the brain.

The limbic system is responsible for sending information to the prefrontal lobes for analysis and decisions. This system is an open-loop design which means other people can and do change our physiology by altering our hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms and immune function. A leader's primary task is to drive emotions in a direction which has positive impact on motivation, strategy and productivity.

Since emotions are at the heart of effective leadership, the key to being an effective leader lies in learning to handle yourself and your relationships in a positive manner. Emotional Intelligence competencies include:

Social awareness empathy
Relationship management

Important new research clearly indicates that we rely on connections with others for our emotional stability and motivation. Who is the most likely person employees will be watching? The leader of a group has the strongest impact because people take emotional cues from the top which ripple throughout the organization's emotional climate. In addition, it is not just what another does but how it is done that registers in our limbic system.

Our emotions automatically shift to match the person we are with, even if the contact is nonverbal. This is called "entrainment" and can take place in a couple of minutes in some situations. The more cohesive the group, the more likely moods will be shared positive or negative.

A Yale study on moods found that moods influence how effectively people work. A primary factor in how well an organization functions depends on how the leaders manage their moods. We know upbeat moods increase cooperation, fairness and business performance. Cooperative and harmonious groups reflect a higher expression of every person's best effort and ability.

Furthermore, how people feel about working at an organization (the climate) can influence productivity. Low morale and lack of cooperation predict high turnover and lower productivity. In addition, distress and worry decrease mental abilities and E.I. This makes it difficult to read the emotions of other people accurately a skill necessary for empathy.

In addition, research indicates that the emotional state and actions of leaders set the climate. They create the conditions that determine the employees' ability to work well. In general, leaders need to be more supportive and empathetic as work becomes more emotionally demanding. When leaders are negative and unmotivated, there is anxiety and dissonance which undermines morale. When leaders are out of touch with the feelings of employees, they create dissonance. This causes people to feel off-balance, be easily distracted, and perform poorly.

In contrast, emotionally intelligent leaders create resonance or harmony. Resonant leaders rally people around a worthy goal. They are self-aware, in touch with the truth about themselves and their feelings. They use self-management to express emotions appropriately and are able to empathize with others. Without empathy, resonant leadership is impossible. When leaders are energetic and enthusiastic, an organization thrives.

The most effective leadership and management style will use a combination of Emotional Intelligence and cognitive ability. While cognitive ability tends to be set, E.I. is learned through practice, feedback and repetition over time. Although learning to improve Emotional Intelligence is self-directed, it cannot be done in isolation.

Coaching is an ideal way to provide a safe context for change to occur and to better prepare people to be resonant leaders. Some leaders find it difficult to get honest feedback as they are promoted into management positions because employees instinctively want to please their boss and are hesitant to give negative feedback. This can decrease self-awareness and effective leadership development. The coaching process provides essential feedback for continued awareness and skill building.

In summary, to effectively lead and manage relationships, leaders must continue to:

be self-aware
manage themselves appropriately
have empathy with their employees

Leaders need a safe space for learning and feedback which is focused on emotional and intellectual learning. Change occurs through a process which affects individuals, teams and the organization's culture. Coaching supports and enriches the process.

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About the Author: Copyright (c) 2007 Maurine Patten Maurine Patten, Ed.D., CMC, Maximize Your Possibilities More free information, assessment and ezine subscription at

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