Daniel Goleman is the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, and the co-author of Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Goleman was a science reporter for the New York Times, and received the American Psychological Association's Lifetime Achievement Award for his media writing.
His latest book, Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence, is a collection of his key findings on leadership.
I asked Goleman three questions about the importance of emotional intelligence for leaders.
McLaughlin: Many consultants, though responsible for delivering results, often don't have the authority to make all the decisions that impact those results. Any advice on how a consultant can lead in that environment?
Goleman: This dilemma--needing to get people to take action while having no direct line of authority--is epidemic in matrixed organizations everywhere. So consultants can use the same tactics as anyone who must lead indirectly.
One key is persuasion and influence, an emotional intelligence competence that has several levels. For starters, there's making a persuasive argument. This requires knowing what matters to the person you're talking with--what his or her motivations and needs are--and using that as the starting point.
But it also entails moment-to-moment empathy, being able to read the nonverbal, to know if your argument is working--or the person's eyes are glazing over and switching tactics. Powerful stories are another part of excellence in this competence.
Beyond making a persuasive case, you have to know who to make the case to. Who are the emergent leaders in the group, that is, those whose opinions everyone takes seriously (not always the designated leaders)? At the higher levels of this competence, you know who the key players are, are able to persuade them, and have them deliver the message.
McLaughlin: In your experience, what's the most common mistake that leaders make?
Goleman: Perhaps the common cold of leadership these days is a lack of empathy--that is, tuning out the emotional reactions of the people you are trying to lead. The art of leadership requires strong interpersonal radar, to pick up on how people actually feel about your message and your leadership.
The Type A leader who charges off in a direction and expects everyone to follow, but has no idea how people are reacting, may end up charging up the hill alone. Stopping to pay full attention allows deep listening. And in today's hectic leadership world, with so many constant distractions, that is a dying art.
Another common mistake is tuning out your own stress. Leadership creates its own pressures and hassles. For one, many leaders become isolated as they rise, with fewer and fewer confidants with whom to mull over problems or blow off steam.
For another, leaders are often held to targets not of their own making, which may not be realistic. Or they have to get to their own targets with insufficient resources in time, money, personnel, etc. If your ignore that stress, you can easily end up in "frazzle," the brain state of constantly pumping out stress hormones that shrink the capacity of your executive brain to make good decisions.
Every leader needs time and a method to decompress from his or her daily routine; if you can't control the external sources of stress, at least you can control how you react.
McLaughlin: Are there common misconceptions about the characteristics of effective leaders?
Goleman: Some hold with the stereotype that an effective leader is just "nice," on the one hand, or must be dictatorial, on the other. In fact, the leaders who get the best results tend to be a combination of firm and authoritative as needed, but also supportive and warm--in other words, emotionally intelligent.
Find out more about Daniel Goleman.
You might also be interested in our podcast, Daniel Goleman: New Insights on Emotional Intelligence.