Home » Leadership » Emotional intelligence – the heart of effective leadership

Emotional intelligenceI used to work for a banking corporation in South Africa. As part of my role of leadership and management development for the bank, I travelled all over Southern Africa, visiting branches to train and coach current and future leaders. While visiting a branch in an outlying town, I happened to walk in on a tiff between a lady staff member and the branch manager – she was in tears and clearly distraught. The manager took her shoulders, turned her around and guided her out of his office, suggesting that she comes back to talk when she is less emotional. She resigned! He lost any respect that the rest of the team might have had for him previously.

On another occasion, a team experienced the pain of one of its members being seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident. The manager immediately pulled the team together, spending a couple of hours on that first day with them, talking through the feelings that everyone was experiencing. Later that week, as the team member struggled for his life in the intensive care unit of the local hospital, the manager facilitated a drawing session, where team members could express their thoughts and well wishes for their colleague. They mounted the drawings in a collage and put the poster up on the wall to keep the colleague central in their thoughts and prayers. Every day, the manager would visit the hospital, being careful to take two team members along with him for the visit. The following morning, the manager and team members would report back to the rest of the team of progress being made. The injured colleague eventually pulled through and re-joined his team – the manager had helped his team make sense of their pain in the midst of the unfortunate accident and earned their respect in the process.

The big difference between the above managers lies in the area of emotional intelligence – being intelligent about emotions. Daniel Goleman, in his book “Primal Leadership”, suggests that a leader needs to create “resonance” – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people – and thus impacts performance. The intelligent leader thus inspires, encourages, evokes passion and enthusiasm and keeps people motivated and committed.

In days gone by, leadership in many companies saw the presence of emotion as a threat to productivity, as unnecessary distractions which diffused focus and an inappropriate use of energy. There were “rules” for the way that meetings were conducted and any emotional issues were referred to the human resources department to be dealt with by them. This may still be the practise of many companies today, but the period of ignoring the presence of emotions as irrelevant in the way we conduct business is over. What business needs more than ever before are leadership teams that create the right emotional environment for employees to flourish and who thus offer the best of their giftedness and skills.

The marketing and advertising sector has long recognised the need and comparative success of emotive advertising and has attempted to make brands “resonate” with specific audiences. Organisations have unfortunately been slow to pick up on the emotive side of business and have bred toxic environments, where people feel disempowered and work without hope and without feelings of being valued and appreciated for their respective contributions.

Organisations can change, however – real change is stimulated when emotionally intelligent leaders actively participate in the emotional reality of the company’s daily processes and behaviour. Leaders here subscribe to focus on the underlying emotions and the organisational cultural glue that holds the company together.  They accept this as reality and work at continually recreating an environment where this organisational culture can take root and flourish. They respect emotion and stimulate positivity to encourage growth and productivity. They believe that emotional intelligence is the heart of effective leadership.

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