successful leadership

Successful leadership: how to be a great leader

Much has been written about successful leadership:

How to become a leader, how to develop the relevant skills? Or how to learn from one’s failures? In many respects, all these questions come down to intellectual prowess, technical competence, and operational know-how – in short, good old-fashioned hard skills.

However, while qualifications are essential and cannot be underestimated in one’s day-to-day work, they fail to account for the difference in performance between equally skilled people in leadership positions.

All things being equal, what makes some senior leaders more successful than others?

This was the question Daniel Goleman set out to answer when he embarked on his research into what makes a leader (published by Harvard Business Review in June 1996). What he found was that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership, the “right stuff” that allows some leaders to rise above the rest. Today, this statement rings particularly true.

Does this really work?

Goleman makes a convincing argument that having a leader with a high EQ can be extremely advantageous to an organisation: “the higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence capabilities showed up as the reason for his or her effectiveness. When I compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership positions, nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.”

Goleman’s study dates back to 1995 and 1996, and even in his wildest dreams, he could not have predicted the Covid-19 outbreak and its consequences for business organisations – from economic uncertainty and remote work to the impact it continues to have on people, with emotional responses ranging from great enthusiasm about freedom to work from home to depression brought about by the isolation it entails.

Nowadays, emotional intelligence is seen as a must-have for a leader and a key to dealing with unpredictable situations, vulnerability and fears among staff members, liquidity problems on clients’ side, negotiations of contracts suspended or disrupted due to Covid-19, delays in commercial deliveries nearly all across the board, with the automotive and construction industries taking a particularly hard hit. During Covid-19, the world has been a testing ground for stress resistance, resilience, and adaptability, while simultaneously highlighting the importance of communication, loyalty, and a sense of community.

The European Commission predicts that the skills of leadership and emotional intelligence will be essential for workers and businesses in the post-corona economy. The fact that these two skills are given such prominence goes to show how important and challenging it is to inspire and motivate staff members and encourage collaboration from a distance, especially as, with the rise of the gig economy, teams are becoming ever more fluid, requiring initiative and proactivity from everyone involved.

Special attention is given to emotional intelligence, defined as “the ability to understand and be aware of one’s own emotions as well as those of other people”. The European Commission notes that the post-corona economy can be volatile and challenging, and companies will need emotionally intelligent leaders to help workers navigate their way through these difficult times.

Just how important are these two skills? To offer some perspective, both leadership and emotional intelligence are ranked higher by the Commission than technology skills, digital and coding skills, adaptability, creativity and innovation, data literacy and critical thinking.

What is emotional intelligence?

Daniel Goleman defines emotional intelligence as a set of five skills that enable the best leaders to maximise their own and their followers’ performance:

(1) self-awareness – knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others;

(2) self-regulation – controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods;

(3) motivation – relishing achievement for its own sake;

(4) empathy – understanding other people’s emotional makeup;

(5) social skills or, as I prefer to call it, “nothing important gets done alone”– building rapport with others to move them in desired directions.

Emotional intelligence has several components, but essentially it is about leading through empathy, influence, and collaboration.

Can emotional intelligence be learned?

Knowing how essential it is in difficult times to be an emotionally intelligent leader, is there any hope for us, mere mortals, to learn it? According to Goleman, research shows that, given the right approach, people can develop their emotional intelligence. As Goleman says, the process is not easy and requires time and commitment, but it is well worth the effort. After 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic, who would disagree?

About the author:

Agnieszka Pytlas

Adwokat / Managing Partner at Penteris


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