What is leadership, and why do we care?

There are many books, articles, and papers that have been written on the topic of leadership. I find it interesting that so many popular books, such as Jim Collin’s books; Built to Last or Good to Great,  or Captain Abrashoff’s It’s your Ship, focus on leadership from the CEO’s vantage point.  There are also a number of books which address leadership traits the authors feel are necessary for good leadership. Additionally, there is a plethora of leadership styles or types of leadership: Resonant, Level 5, Covent, and Servant Leadership to name a few.

My definition of leadership is: the art of influencing others to accomplish a task or achieve a goal.  Based on that definition, let’s more closely examine what leadership is.

Leadership is a relationship between the leader and those that are being led.  In a person’s life, there are a many different relationships; employee-employer, man-wife, teacher-student are just a couple of examples. Relationships are a two-way street, and good relationships take skill to develop and nurture. Both parties need to contribute to the relationship in order for it to be a success. In a leadership relationship, the leader needs to accomplish some task and would like the followers to take some action in support of the leader’s task.  As I mentioned in the opening, there are many books that describe and educate readers on the various leadership traits. As a prior Marine, I am partial to the Marine Corp Leadership traits.  (Easily remembered by using the mnemonic phrase: J.J. DID TIE BUCKLE)















Do this quick exercise: Reflect on who were the leaders you respected the most, then write down the various characteristics that made them great.   Sort and categorize the identified characteristics into three categories; Emotional Intelligence (or EQ), IQ, or Technical Ability.   What did you find? Whenever I have seen this exercise run, Emotional Intelligence was always the overwhelming characteristic which made a leader great. Keeping your results in mind, you can see only one of the 14 Marine Corp Leadership traits deals with technical knowledge.

What is the definition of Emotional Intelligence? Just the word “Emotional’ will throw readers off track. Raven Bar-on in his Model of Social and Emotional Intelligence, “Emotional-social intelligence is a cross-section of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that determine how effectively we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands[i].”   Under Mayer, Salovey & Curuso’s model of Emotional Intelligence there are 4 functions: Perceiving emotions, Facilitating thought, Understanding emotions and Managing Emotions[ii].  In layman’s terms Emotional Intelligence is the “ability to recognize, understand, and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others[iii]. 

What is the connection between Emotional Intelligence and how a leader influences others?

How a leader influences others can be done in many ways, and can be very dependent on the situation. For example, in a crisis, a leader will take a very directive approach.  In the case of a fire, the leader does not have the time to consider alternative options or the state of the followers’ emotions/feelings and the impact the leader has on those emotions/feelings.  For most of us, we do not lead very often in this type of environment.  The vast majority of us do not lead in environments where death or injury is a potential outcome. Emotional Intelligence is the defining factor in the ability of an individual to lead in these situations.  One of the traits Emotionally Intelligent leaders access is Self-Regard. Self-Regard shows up as self-confidence, and is a balance of the positive and negative thoughts about themselves.  Successful leaders generally have a pretty healthy dose of Self-Regard, but too much self-regard shows up as arrogance.  The flip side of the coin, if the individual does not have enough positive Self-Regard, they will show up as unconfident or lacking of self-esteem.  Continuing with Self-Regard, the leader must also understand the follower’s level of Self-Regard.  If the follower is lacking in Self-Regard, or confidence, the leader must use different actions to get the follower to take the desired action. 

 Developing Emotional Intelligence into a highly effective skill, enables leaders to unleash untapped potential of their followers to accomplish the impossible.


[i] The Bar-On Model of Emotional-Social Intelligence (ESI), Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations-Issues in Emotional Intelligence  p 5  retrieved from: www.eiconsortium.org

[ii] Emotional Intelligence; Theory, Findings, and Implications, Caruso, D.R., Mayer, J.D., & Salovey, P. Psychological Inquiry 2004, Vol 15 No. 3 197-215

[iii] What it means to be an Emotionally Intelligent Person For Dummies, Making Everything Easier.  Retrieved from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/emotional-intelligence-for-dummies-cheat-sheet.html