Unlocking Emotional Intelligence: HBR Must Reads on Leadership Review #1

Emotional Intelligence is a common corporate product, so it comes as no surprise that the very first article in HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Leadership is Daniel Goleman’s “What Makes a Leader?” which delves into the merits of developing Emotional Intelligence as a leader. Often touted as the single overriding factor or “sine qua non” of good leadership, Emotional Intelligence (EI) speaks to one’s capacity to navigate corporate culture with an awareness of the emotional, within one’s self and others, and to use that information to successfully navigate difficult moments and overcome challenges. EI is seen as the differentiating quality of a high performing leader, above technical skills and cognitive abilities.

“That the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way; they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.”Daniel Goleman, 1996
 There are five key components of EI including:
  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 Skill: building rapport with others to move them in desired directions

EI is a fantastic set of strengths to navigate the Corporate Mindset. There is certainly a very strong strengths-based component to trying to leverage interpersonal awareness and relationships building skills strengths in a way that deepens authentic engagement and drives performance in others. The real opportunity for people high in EI is to increase their self-awareness so they can more effectively regulate impulses and moods. This, in and of itself, can lead to higher levels of authentic leadership while minimizing any disruptive behaviors. There is also an embracing of positive forms of motivation to “relish achievement for its own sake.”

EI is clearly an elevation over the traditional Corporate Mindset. However, there is still a disconnect in this model that does not optimize one’s ability to authentically apply the model for sustainable authentic leadership in greater humanity, inside and outside of the corporate mindset. EI promotes a deeper understanding of self and others that extends beyond the Corporate Mindset but it is still grounded in:

  • Navigating the corporate cultures as they are currently defined and characterized
  • A deeper understanding of one’s emotional self, but little connection to any greater sense of purpose or direction in life (i.e. to answer questions like, “Why do you get up in the morning?”, “Why do you exist?”)
  • A slight focus on understanding weakness as a means to further one’s own performance, but still in contrast to embracing one’s strengths as a means of achieving success
  • Understanding others, but mostly in an effort to move them in a particular direction.  Little is said to ensure that outright manipulation is avoided, let alone promote efforts to help others in achieving their own personal goals and purpose in life.
“Leadership has less to do with how far up a corporate ladder you can climb, and more to do with how far you can walk in your own soul.”Monika Black

So, what we are left with is the realization that this concept, and more specifically this application, of EI is largely a rehash of the existing corporate mindset model of leadership, just with more awareness. It walks leadership further along the continuum of authentic leadership, which is great.  But, does so within the context of the Corporate Ball.  It does not complete the job of walking one into their own purpose that would conjure a deeper engagement in natural talents and strengths as key drivers for success. From a strengths-based perspective, high EI would result in more mature engagement in one’s natural and true strengths versus raw manifestations of strengths (e.g., self-oriented, ego-driven, and unproductive), and not just aim to improve how one manages emotionally in an effort to achieve “better” business results. Failing to do so leaves unanswered the inevitable, and incredibly important, questions of “better for whom?” and “to what end?”

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