FROM THE HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW
the outstanding leader
What Makes a Leader?
by Daniel Goleman
from the merely adequate?
a powerful combination
of self-management skills
and the ability to work
New sections to
guide you through
• The Idea in Brief
• The Idea at Work
• Exploring Further . . .
PRODUCT NUMBER 3790
T H E I D E A I N B R I E F What Makes a Leader?
A to define the ideal leader, many
would emphasize traits such as intelligence,
attribute that distinguishes outstanding per-
formers from those who are merely adequate.
toughness, determination, and vision. Often For example, in a 1996 study of a global food
left off the list are softer, more personal quali- and beverage company, where senior managers
ties—but recent studies indicate that they are had a certain critical mass of emotional intelli-
also essential. Although a certain degree of gence, their divisions outperformed yearly
analytical and technical skill is a minimum earnings goals by 20%. Division leaders without
requirement for success, what is called that critical mass underperformed by almost
“emotional intelligence” may be the key the same amount.
T H E I D E A AT W O R K
T are five components to emotional
intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation,
starts with empathy—taking into account
the feelings of others when making deci-
motivation, empathy, and social skill. All five sions—as opposed to taking on everyone’s
traits sound desirable to just about everyone. troubles.
But organizations too often implicitly discour-
age their people from developing them. EXAMPLE:
Consider two division chiefs at a company forced
to make layoffs. One manager gave a hard-
hitting speech emphasizing the number of
1. Self-awareness. Emotional intelligence people who would be fired. The other manager,
begins with this trait. People with a high while not hiding the bad news, took into account
degree of self-awareness know their weak- his people’s anxieties. He promised to keep them
informed and to treat everyone fairly. Many exec-
nesses and aren’t afraid to talk about them.
utives would have refrained from such a show
Someone who understands that he works
of consideration, lest they appear to lack tough-
poorly under tight deadlines, for example,
ness. But the tough manager demoralized his
will work hard to plan his time carefully, talented people—most of whom ended up
and will let his colleagues know why. Many leaving his division voluntarily.
executives looking for potential leaders
mistake such candor for “wimpiness.”
2. Self-regulation. This attribute flows from 5. Social skill. All the preceding traits culmi-
self-awareness, but runs in a different direc- nate in this fifth one: the ability to build
tion. People with this trait are able to con- rapport with others, to get them to cooper-
trol their impulses or even channel them ate, to move them in a direction you desire.
for good purposes. Managers who simply try to be sociable—
while lacking the other components of
3. Motivation. A passion for achievement for
emotional intelligence—are likely to fail.
its own sake—not simply the ability to
Social skill, by contrast, is friendliness with
respond to whatever incentives a company
offers—is the kind of motivation that is
essential for leadership. Can you boost your emotional intelligence?
Absolutely—but not with traditional training
programs that target the rational part of the
The ability to relate to others
brain. Extended practice, feedback from col-
4. Empathy. In addition to self-management leagues, and your own enthusiasm for making
skills, emotional intelligence requires a the change are essential to becoming an effec-
facility for dealing with others. And that tive leader.
HBR OnPoint © 2000 President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.
IQ and technical skills are important, but emotional
intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.
What Makes a
by daniel goleman
knows a story about a highly intelligent, highly
skilled executive who was promoted into a leader-
ship position only to fail at the job. And they also
know a story about someone with solid – but not
extraordinary – intellectual abilities and technical
skills who was promoted into a similar position
and then soared.
Such anecdotes support the widespread belief
that identifying individuals with the “right stuff”
to be leaders is more art than science. After all, the
personal styles of superb leaders vary: some lead-
ers are subdued and analytical; others shout their
manifestos from the mountaintops. And just as
important, different situations call for different
Daniel Goleman is the author of Emotional Intelligence (Ban-
tam, 1995) and Working with Emotional Intelligence (Bantam,
1998). He is cochairman of the Consortium for Research on
Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, which is based at Rut-
gers University’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional
Psychology in Piscataway, New Jersey. He can be reached at
art work by cr aig fr a zier Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.
w h at m a k e s a l e a d e r ?
types of leadership. Most mergers need a sensitive abilities like analytical reasoning; and competen-
negotiator at the helm, whereas many turnarounds cies demonstrating emotional intelligence such as
require a more forceful authority. the ability to work with others and effectiveness in
I have found, however, that the most effective leading change.
leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a To create some of the competency models, psy-
high degree of what has come to be known as emo- chologists asked senior managers at the companies
tional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical to identify the capabilities that typiﬁed the organi-
skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as zation’s most outstanding leaders. To create other
“threshold capabilities”; that is, they are the entry- models, the psychologists used objective criteria
level requirements for executive positions. But my such as a division’s proﬁtability to differentiate the
research, along with other recent studies, clearly star performers at senior levels within their organi-
shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua zations from the average ones. Those individuals
non of leadership. Without it, a were then extensively interviewed
person can have the best training and tested, and their capabilities
in the world, an incisive, analyti- Effective were compared. This process re-
cal mind, and an endless supply sulted in the creation of lists of
of smart ideas, but he still won’t
make a great leader.
leaders are alike ingredients for highly effective
leaders. The lists ranged in length
In the course of the past year,
my colleagues and I have focused
in one crucial from 7 to 15 items and included
such ingredients as initiative and
on how emotional intelligence
operates at work. We have exam- way: they all strategic vision.
When I analyzed all this data,
ined the relationship between I found dramatic results. To be
emotional intelligence and effec- have a high sure, intellect was a driver of out-
tive performance, especially in standing performance. Cognitive
leaders. And we have observed
how emotional intelligence
degree of skills such as big-picture think-
ing and long-term vision were
shows itself on the job. How can
you tell if someone has high
emotional particularly important. But when
I calculated the ratio of technical
emotional intelligence, for exam- skills, IQ, and emotional intelli-
ple, and how can you recognize it intelligence. gence as ingredients of excellent
in yourself? In the following performance, emotional intelli-
pages, we’ll explore these questions, taking each of gence proved to be twice as important as the others
the components of emotional intelligence – self- for jobs at all levels.
awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, Moreover, my analysis showed that emotional
and social skill – in turn. intelligence played an increasingly important role
at the highest levels of the company, where differ-
ences in technical skills are of negligible impor-
Evaluating Emotional Intelligence tance. In other words, the higher the rank of a per-
Most large companies today have employed trained son considered to be a star performer, the more
psychologists to develop what are known as “com- emotional intelligence capabilities showed up as
petency models” to aid them in identifying, train- the reason for his or her effectiveness. When I com-
ing, and promoting likely stars in the leadership pared star performers with average ones in senior
ﬁrmament. The psychologists have also developed leadership positions, nearly 90% of the difference
such models for lower-level positions. And in re- in their proﬁles was attributable to emotional intel-
cent years, I have analyzed competency models ligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.
from 188 companies, most of which were large and Other researchers have conﬁrmed that emotional
global and included the likes of Lucent Technolo- intelligence not only distinguishes outstanding
gies, British Airways, and Credit Suisse. leaders but can also be linked to strong perfor-
In carrying out this work, my objective was to mance. The ﬁndings of the late David McClelland,
determine which personal capabilities drove out- the renowned researcher in human and organiza-
standing performance within these organizations, tional behavior, are a good example. In a 1996 study
and to what degree they did so. I grouped capabili- of a global food and beverage company, McClelland
ties into three categories: purely technical skills found that when senior managers had a critical
like accounting and business planning; cognitive mass of emotional intelligence capabilities, their
94 harvard business review November–December 1998
w h at m a k e s a l e a d e r ?
The Five Components of Emotional Intelligence at Work
Self-Awareness the ability to recognize and understand self-conﬁdence
your moods, emotions, and drives, as
well as their effect on others realistic self-assessment
self-deprecating sense of humor
Self-Regulation the ability to control or redirect trustworthiness and integrity
disruptive impulses and moods
comfort with ambiguity
the propensity to suspend judgment –
to think before acting openness to change
Motivation a passion to work for reasons that go strong drive to achieve
beyond money or status
optimism, even in the face of failure
a propensity to pursue goals with
energy and persistence organizational commitment
Empathy the ability to understand the emotional expertise in building and retaining
makeup of other people talent
skill in treating people according to cross-cultural sensitivity
their emotional reactions
service to clients and customers
Social Skill proﬁciency in managing relationships effectiveness in leading change
and building networks
an ability to ﬁnd common ground and
build rapport expertise in building and leading teams
divisions outperformed yearly earnings goals by right approach, develop their emotional intelli-
20%. Meanwhile, division leaders without that gence. (See the insert “Can Emotional Intelligence
critical mass underperformed by almost the same Be Learned?”)
amount. McClelland’s ﬁndings, interestingly, held
as true in the company’s U.S. divisions as in its divi-
sions in Asia and Europe. Self-Awareness
In short, the numbers are beginning to tell us a Self-awareness is the ﬁrst component of emotional
persuasive story about the link between a compa- intelligence – which makes sense when one con-
ny’s success and the emotional intelligence of its siders that the Delphic oracle gave the advice to
leaders. And just as important, research is also “know thyself” thousands of years ago. Self-aware-
demonstrating that people can, if they take the ness means having a deep understanding of one’s
harvard business review November–December 1998 95
w h at m a k e s a l e a d e r ?
emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. Such self-knowledge often shows itself in the
People with strong self-awareness are neither overly hiring process. Ask a candidate to describe a time
critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, they are he got carried away by his feelings and did some-
honest – with themselves and with others. thing he later regretted. Self-aware candidates will
People who have a high degree of self-awareness be frank in admitting to failure – and will often tell
recognize how their feelings affect them, other peo- their tales with a smile. One of the hallmarks of
ple, and their job performance. Thus a self-aware self-awareness is a self-deprecating sense of humor.
person who knows that tight deadlines bring out Self-awareness can also be identiﬁed during per-
the worst in him plans his time carefully and gets formance reviews. Self-aware people know – and
his work done well in advance. Another person are comfortable talking about – their limitations
with high self-awareness will be able to work with and strengths, and they often demonstrate a thirst
a demanding client. She will understand the for constructive criticism. By contrast, people with
client’s impact on her moods and the deeper rea- low self-awareness interpret the message that they
sons for her frustration. “Their trivial demands need to improve as a threat or a sign of failure.
take us away from the real work Self-aware people can also be
that needs to be done,” she might recognized by their self-confi-
explain. And she will go one step Self-aware dence. They have a ﬁrm grasp of
further and turn her anger into their capabilities and are less
Self-awareness extends to a
job candidates likely to set themselves up to fail
by, for example, overstretching
person’s understanding of his or
her values and goals. Someone
will be frank on assignments. They know, too,
when to ask for help. And the
who is highly self-aware knows
where he is headed and why; so, in admitting to risks they take on the job are cal-
culated. They won’t ask for a
for example, he will be able to be challenge that they know they
ﬁrm in turning down a job offer failure – and will can’t handle alone. They’ll play
that is tempting ﬁnancially but to their strengths.
does not ﬁt with his principles or
long-term goals. A person who
often tell their Consider the actions of a mid-
level employee who was invited
lacks self-awareness is apt to
make decisions that bring on in-
tales with a to sit in on a strategy meeting
with her company’s top execu-
ner turmoil by treading on buried tives. Although she was the most
values. “The money looked good smile. junior person in the room, she did
so I signed on,” someone might not sit there quietly, listening in
say two years into a job, “but the work means so lit- awestruck or fearful silence. She knew she had a
tle to me that I’m constantly bored.” The decisions head for clear logic and the skill to present ideas
of self-aware people mesh with their values; conse- persuasively, and she offered cogent suggestions
quently, they often ﬁnd work to be energizing. about the company’s strategy. At the same time,
How can one recognize self-awareness? First and her self-awareness stopped her from wandering into
foremost, it shows itself as candor and an ability to territory where she knew she was weak.
assess oneself realistically. People with high self- Despite the value of having self-aware people in
awareness are able to speak accurately and openly – the workplace, my research indicates that senior
although not necessarily effusively or confession- executives don’t often give self-awareness the credit
ally – about their emotions and the impact they it deserves when they look for potential leaders.
have on their work. For instance, one manager I Many executives mistake candor about feelings for
know of was skeptical about a new personal-shopper “wimpiness” and fail to give due respect to employ-
service that her company, a major department-store ees who openly acknowledge their shortcomings.
chain, was about to introduce. Without prompting Such people are too readily dismissed as “not tough
from her team or her boss, she offered them an ex- enough” to lead others.
planation: “It’s hard for me to get behind the rollout In fact, the opposite is true. In the ﬁrst place, peo-
of this service,” she admitted, “because I really ple generally admire and respect candor. Further,
wanted to run the project, but I wasn’t selected. leaders are constantly required to make judgment
Bear with me while I deal with that.” The manager calls that require a candid assessment of capa-
did indeed examine her feelings; a week later, she bilities – their own and those of others. Do we have
was supporting the project fully. the management expertise to acquire a competitor?
96 harvard business review November–December 1998
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Can Emotional Intelligence Be Learned?
For ages, people have debated if leaders are born or coach could be tapped to let the executive know when
made. So too goes the debate about emotional intel- she has been observed failing to listen. She would
ligence. Are people born with certain levels of em- then have to replay the incident and give a better re-
pathy, for example, or do they acquire empathy as a sponse; that is, demonstrate her ability to absorb what
result of life’s experiences? The answer is both. Scien- others are saying. And the executive could be directed
tiﬁc inquiry strongly suggests that there is a genetic to observe certain executives who listen well and to
component to emotional intelligence. Psychological mimic their behavior.
and developmental research indicates that nurture With persistence and practice, such a process can
plays a role as well. How much of each perhaps will lead to lasting results. I know one Wall Street execu-
never be known, but research and practice clearly tive who sought to improve his empathy – speciﬁcally
demonstrate that emotional intelligence can be his ability to read people’s reactions and see their per-
learned. spectives. Before beginning his quest, the executive’s
One thing is certain: emotional intelligence in- subordinates were terriﬁed of working with him. Peo-
creases with age. There is an old-fashioned word for ple even went so far as to hide bad news from him.
the phenomenon: maturity. Yet even with maturity, Naturally, he was shocked when ﬁnally confronted
some people still need training to enhance their emo- with these facts. He went home and told his family –
tional intelligence. Unfortunately, far too many train- but they only conﬁrmed what he had heard at work.
ing programs that intend to build leadership skills – When their opinions on any given subject did not
including emotional intelligence – are a waste of time mesh with his, they, too, were frightened of him.
and money. The problem is simple: they focus on the Enlisting the help of a coach, the executive went to
wrong part of the brain. work to heighten his empathy through practice and
Emotional intelligence is born largely in the neuro- feedback. His ﬁrst step was to take a vacation to a for-
transmitters of the brain’s limbic system, which gov- eign country where he did not speak the language.
erns feelings, impulses, and drives. Research indi- While there, he monitored his reactions to the unfa-
cates that the limbic system learns best through miliar and his openness to people who were different
motivation, extended practice, and feedback. Com- from him. When he returned home, humbled by his
pare this with the kind of learning that goes on in the week abroad, the executive asked his coach to shadow
neocortex, which governs analytical and technical him for parts of the day, several times a week, in order
ability. The neocortex grasps concepts and logic. It is to critique how he treated people with new or differ-
the part of the brain that ﬁgures out how to use a com- ent perspectives. At the same time, he consciously
puter or make a sales call by reading a book. Not sur- used on-the-job interactions as opportunities to prac-
prisingly – but mistakenly – it is also the part of the tice “hearing” ideas that differed from his. Finally, the
brain targeted by most training programs aimed at en- executive had himself videotaped in meetings and
hancing emotional intelligence. When such programs asked those who worked for and with him to critique
take, in effect, a neocortical approach, my research his ability to acknowledge and understand the feel-
with the Consortium for Research on Emotional In- ings of others. It took several months, but the execu-
telligence in Organizations has shown they can even tive’s emotional intelligence did ultimately rise, and
have a negative impact on people’s job performance. the improvement was reﬂected in his overall perfor-
To enhance emotional intelligence, organizations mance on the job.
must refocus their training to include the limbic sys- It’s important to emphasize that building one’s
tem. They must help people break old behavioral emotional intelligence cannot – will not – happen
habits and establish new ones. That not only takes without sincere desire and concerted effort. A brief
much more time than conventional training pro- seminar won’t help; nor can one buy a how-to manual.
grams, it also requires an individualized approach. It is much harder to learn to empathize – to internal-
Imagine an executive who is thought to be low on ize empathy as a natural response to people – than it is
empathy by her colleagues. Part of that deﬁcit shows to become adept at regression analysis. But it can be
itself as an inability to listen; she interrupts people done. “Nothing great was ever achieved without en-
and doesn’t pay close attention to what they’re say- thusiasm,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. If your goal
ing. To ﬁx the problem, the executive needs to be mo- is to become a real leader, these words can serve as a
tivated to change, and then she needs practice and guidepost in your efforts to develop high emotional
feedback from others in the company. A colleague or intelligence.
harvard business review November–December 1998 97
w h at m a k e s a l e a d e r ?
Can we launch a new product within six months? Second, self-regulation is important for competi-
People who assess themselves honestly – that is, tive reasons. Everyone knows that business today is
self-aware people – are well suited to do the same rife with ambiguity and change. Companies merge
for the organizations they run. and break apart regularly. Technology transforms
work at a dizzying pace. People who have mastered
their emotions are able to roll with the changes.
Self-Regulation When a new change program is announced, they
Biological impulses drive our emotions. We cannot don’t panic; instead, they are able to suspend judg-
do away with them – but we can do much to man- ment, seek out information, and listen to execu-
age them. Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing tives explain the new program. As the initiative
inner conversation, is the component of emotional moves forward, they are able to move with it.
intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of Sometimes they even lead the way. Consider the
our feelings. People engaged in such a conversation case of a manager at a large manufacturing com-
feel bad moods and emotional impulses just as pany. Like her colleagues, she had used a certain
everyone else does, but they ﬁnd software program for ﬁve years.
ways to control them and even to The program drove how she col-
channel them in useful ways. lected and reported data and how
Imagine an executive who has People who she thought about the company’s
just watched a team of his em- strategy. One day, senior execu-
ployees present a botched analy-
sis to the company’s board of
have mastered tives announced that a new pro-
gram was to be installed that
directors. In the gloom that fol-
lows, the executive might find
their emotions would radically change how in-
formation was gathered and as-
himself tempted to pound on the sessed within the organization.
table in anger or kick over a chair. are able to While many people in the com-
He could leap up and scream at pany complained bitterly about
the group. Or he might maintain
a grim silence, glaring at every-
roll with the how disruptive the change would
be, the manager mulled over the
one before stalking off.
But if he had a gift for self-regu-
changes. They reasons for the new program and
was convinced of its potential to
lation, he would choose a differ-
ent approach. He would pick his don’t panic. improve performance. She eagerly
attended training sessions – some
words carefully, acknowledging of her colleagues refused to do
the team’s poor performance so – and was eventually promoted
without rushing to any hasty judgment. He would to run several divisions, in part because she used
then step back to consider the reasons for the fail- the new technology so effectively.
ure. Are they personal – a lack of effort? Are there I want to push the importance of self-regulation
any mitigating factors? What was his role in the de- to leadership even further and make the case that it
bacle? After considering these questions, he would enhances integrity, which is not only a personal
call the team together, lay out the incident’s conse- virtue but also an organizational strength. Many of
quences, and offer his feelings about it. He would the bad things that happen in companies are a func-
then present his analysis of the problem and a well- tion of impulsive behavior. People rarely plan to ex-
considered solution. aggerate proﬁts, pad expense accounts, dip into the
Why does self-regulation matter so much for till, or abuse power for selﬁsh ends. Instead, an op-
leaders? First of all, people who are in control of portunity presents itself, and people with low im-
their feelings and impulses – that is, people who are pulse control just say yes.
reasonable – are able to create an environment of By contrast, consider the behavior of the senior
trust and fairness. In such an environment, politics executive at a large food company. The executive
and inﬁghting are sharply reduced and productivity was scrupulously honest in his negotiations with
is high. Talented people ﬂock to the organization local distributors. He would routinely lay out his
and aren’t tempted to leave. And self-regulation has cost structure in detail, thereby giving the distribu-
a trickle-down effect. No one wants to be known as a tors a realistic understanding of the company’s pric-
hothead when the boss is known for her calm ap- ing. This approach meant the executive couldn’t al-
proach. Fewer bad moods at the top mean fewer ways drive a hard bargain. Now, on occasion, he felt
throughout the organization. the urge to increase proﬁts by withholding informa-
98 harvard business review November–December 1998
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tion about the company’s costs. But he challenged A cosmetics company manager, for example,
that impulse – he saw that it made more sense in was frustrated that he had to wait two weeks to get
the long run to counteract it. His emotional self- sales results from people in the ﬁeld. He ﬁnally
regulation paid off in strong, lasting relationships tracked down an automated phone system that
with distributors that beneﬁted the company more would beep each of his salespeople at 5 p.m. every
than any short-term ﬁnancial gains would have. day. An automated message then prompted them
The signs of emotional self-regula-
tion, therefore, are not hard to miss: a
propensity for reﬂection and thought-
fulness; comfort with ambiguity and
change; and integrity – an ability to say
no to impulsive urges.
Like self-awareness, self-regulation
often does not get its due. People who
can master their emotions are some-
times seen as cold ﬁsh – their consid-
ered responses are taken as a lack of
passion. People with fiery tempera-
ments are frequently thought of as
“classic” leaders – their outbursts are
considered hallmarks of charisma and
power. But when such people make it
to the top, their impulsiveness often
works against them. In my research,
extreme displays of negative emotion
have never emerged as a driver of good
If there is one trait that virtually all ef-
fective leaders have, it is motivation.
They are driven to achieve beyond ex-
pectations – their own and everyone
else’s. The key word here is achieve.
Plenty of people are motivated by exter-
nal factors such as a big salary or the
status that comes from having an im-
pressive title or being part of a presti- People who are in control of their feelings can tame their emo-
gious company. By contrast, those with tional impulses and redirect them in useful ways.
leadership potential are motivated by a
deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of to punch in their numbers – how many calls and
achievement. sales they had made that day. The system short-
If you are looking for leaders, how can you iden- ened the feedback time on sales results from weeks
tify people who are motivated by the drive to to hours.
achieve rather than by external rewards? The ﬁrst That story illustrates two other common traits of
sign is a passion for the work itself – such people people who are driven to achieve. They are forever
seek out creative challenges, love to learn, and raising the performance bar, and they like to keep
take great pride in a job well done. They also dis- score. Take the performance bar ﬁrst. During per-
play an unﬂagging energy to do things better. Peo- formance reviews, people with high levels of motiva-
ple with such energy often seem restless with the tion might ask to be “stretched” by their superiors.
status quo. They are persistent with their ques- Of course, an employee who combines self-aware-
tions about why things are done one way rather ness with internal motivation will recognize her
than another; they are eager to explore new ap- limits – but she won’t settle for objectives that
proaches to their work. seem too easy to fulﬁll.
harvard business review November–December 1998 99
w h at m a k e s a l e a d e r ?
And it follows naturally that people who are tional commitment are fundamental to leader-
driven to do better also want a way of tracking ship – just try to imagine running a company with-
progress – their own, their team’s, and their com- out them.
pany’s. Whereas people with low achievement mo-
tivation are often fuzzy about results, those with
high achievement motivation often keep score by Empathy
tracking such hard measures as proﬁtability or mar- Of all the dimensions of emotional intelligence,
ket share. I know of a money manager who starts empathy is the most easily recognized. We have all
and ends his day on the Internet, gauging the perfor- felt the empathy of a sensitive teacher or friend; we
mance of his stock fund against four industry-set have all been struck by its absence in an unfeeling
benchmarks. coach or boss. But when it comes to business, we
Interestingly, people with high motivation re- rarely hear people praised, let alone rewarded, for
main optimistic even when the score is against their empathy. The very word seems unbusi-
them. In such cases, self-regulation combines nesslike, out of place amid the tough realities of the
with achievement motivation to overcome the marketplace.
frustration and depression that come after a set- But empathy doesn’t mean a kind of “I’m okay,
back or failure. Take the case of an another portfo- you’re okay” mushiness. For a leader, that is, it
lio manager at a large invest- doesn’t mean adopting other
ment company. After several people’s emotions as one’s own
successful years, her fund tum-
bled for three consecutive quar-
The very word and trying to please everybody.
That would be a nightmare – it
ters, leading three large insti-
tutional clients to shift their
empathy seems would make action impossi-
ble. Rather, empathy means
Some executives would have unbusinesslike, thoughtfully considering em-
ployees’ feelings – along with
blamed the nosedive on cir- other factors – in the process of
cumstances outside their con- out of place amid making intelligent decisions.
trol; others might have seen the For an example of empathy
setback as evidence of personal
failure. This portfolio manager,
the tough realities in action, consider what hap-
pened when two giant broker-
however, saw an opportunity
to prove she could lead a turn-
of the marketplace. age companies merged, creat-
ing redundant jobs in all their
around. Two years later, when divisions. One division man-
she was promoted to a very senior level in the com- ager called his people together and gave a gloomy
pany, she described the experience as “the best speech that emphasized the number of people who
thing that ever happened to me; I learned so much would soon be ﬁred. The manager of another divi-
from it.” sion gave his people a different kind of speech. He
Executives trying to recognize high levels of was upfront about his own worry and confusion,
achievement motivation in their people can look and he promised to keep people informed and to
for one last piece of evidence: commitment to the treat everyone fairly.
organization. When people love their job for the The difference between these two managers was
work itself, they often feel committed to the orga- empathy. The ﬁrst manager was too worried about
nizations that make that work possible. Commit- his own fate to consider the feelings of his anxiety-
ted employees are likely to stay with an organiza- stricken colleagues. The second knew intuitively
tion even when they are pursued by headhunters what his people were feeling, and he acknowledged
waving money. their fears with his words. Is it any surprise that the
It’s not difficult to understand how and why a ﬁrst manager saw his division sink as many demor-
motivation to achieve translates into strong leader- alized people, especially the most talented, departed?
ship. If you set the performance bar high for your- By contrast, the second manager continued to be a
self, you will do the same for the organization when strong leader, his best people stayed, and his divi-
you are in a position to do so. Likewise, a drive to sion remained as productive as ever.
surpass goals and an interest in keeping score can Empathy is particularly important today as a
be contagious. Leaders with these traits can often component of leadership for at least three reasons:
build a team of managers around them with the the increasing use of teams; the rapid pace of global-
same traits. And of course, optimism and organiza- ization; and the growing need to retain talent.
100 harvard business review November–December 1998
w h at m a k e s a l e a d e r ?
Consider the challenge of leading a team. As any- miliar with Japanese culture, he read the client’s
one who has ever been a part of one can attest, face and posture and sensed not rejection but inter-
teams are cauldrons of bubbling emotions. They are est – even deep consideration. He was right: when
often charged with reaching a consensus – hard the client ﬁnally spoke, it was to give the consult-
enough with two people and much more difficult as ing ﬁrm the job.
the numbers increase. Even in groups with as few Finally, empathy plays a key role in the retention
as four or ﬁve members, alliances form and clash- of talent, particularly in today’s information econ-
ing agendas get set. A team’s leader must be able to omy. Leaders have always needed empathy to de-
sense and understand the viewpoints of everyone velop and keep good people, but today the stakes
around the table. are higher. When good people leave, they take the
That’s exactly what a marketing manager at a company’s knowledge with them.
large information technology company was able to That’s where coaching and mentoring come in. It
do when she was appointed to lead a troubled team. has repeatedly been shown that coaching and men-
The group was in turmoil, overloaded by work and toring pay off not just in better performance but
missing deadlines. Tensions were high among the also in increased job satisfaction and decreased
members. Tinkering with procedures was not turnover. But what makes coaching and mentoring
enough to bring the group together and make it an work best is the nature of the relationship. Out-
effective part of the company. standing coaches and mentors get
So the manager took several inside the heads of the people
steps. In a series of one-on-one
sessions, she took the time to lis-
Social skill is they are helping. They sense how
to give effective feedback. They
ten to everyone in the group –
what was frustrating them, how
friendliness know when to push for better
performance and when to hold
they rated their colleagues,
whether they felt they had been with a purpose: back. In the way they motivate
their protégés, they demonstrate
ignored. And then she directed empathy in action.
the team in a way that brought it moving people In what is probably sounding
together: she encouraged people like a refrain, let me repeat that
to speak more openly about their
frustrations, and she helped peo-
in the direction empathy doesn’t get much re-
spect in business. People wonder
ple raise constructive complaints
during meetings. In short, her
you desire. how leaders can make hard deci-
sions if they are “feeling” for all
empathy allowed her to under- the people who will be affected.
stand her team’s emotional makeup. The result was But leaders with empathy do more than sympa-
not just heightened collaboration among members thize with people around them: they use their
but also added business, as the team was called on knowledge to improve their companies in subtle
for help by a wider range of internal clients. but important ways.
Globalization is another reason for the rising im-
portance of empathy for business leaders. Cross-
cultural dialogue can easily lead to miscues and
misunderstandings. Empathy is an antidote. Peo- The ﬁrst three components of emotional intelli-
ple who have it are attuned to subtleties in body gence are all self-management skills. The last two,
language; they can hear the message beneath the empathy and social skill, concern a person’s ability
words being spoken. Beyond that, they have a deep to manage relationships with others. As a compo-
understanding of the existence and importance of nent of emotional intelligence, social skill is not as
cultural and ethnic differences. simple as it sounds. It’s not just a matter of friendli-
Consider the case of an American consultant ness, although people with high levels of social
whose team had just pitched a project to a potential skill are rarely mean-spirited. Social skill, rather,
Japanese client. In its dealings with Americans, the is friendliness with a purpose: moving people in the
team was accustomed to being bombarded with direction you desire, whether that’s agreement on
questions after such a proposal, but this time it was a new marketing strategy or enthusiasm about a
greeted with a long silence. Other members of the new product.
team, taking the silence as disapproval, were ready Socially skilled people tend to have a wide circle
to pack and leave. The lead consultant gestured of acquaintances, and they have a knack for ﬁnding
them to stop. Although he was not particularly fa- common ground with people of all kinds – a knack
harvard business review November–December 1998 101
w h at m a k e s a l e a d e r ?
for building rapport. That doesn’t mean they social- nity that cut across levels, divisions, and nations.
ize continually; it means they work according to He then used this de facto team to put up a corpo-
the assumption that nothing important gets done rate Web site, among the ﬁrst by a major company.
alone. Such people have a network in place when And, on his own initiative, with no budget or for-
the time for action comes. mal status, he signed up the company to participate
Social skill is the culmination of the other di- in an annual Internet industry convention. Calling
mensions of emotional intelligence. People tend to on his allies and persuading various divisions to
be very effective at managing relationships when donate funds, he recruited more than 50 people
they can understand and control their own emo- from a dozen different units to represent the com-
tions and can empathize with the feelings of others. pany at the convention.
Even motivation contributes to social skill. Re- Management took notice: within a year of the
member that people who are driven to achieve tend conference, the executive’s team formed the basis
to be optimistic, even in the face of setbacks or fail- for the company’s ﬁrst Internet division, and he
ure. When people are upbeat, their “glow” is cast was formally put in charge of it. To get there, the
upon conversations and other so- executive had ignored conven-
cial encounters. They are popular, tional boundaries, forging and
and for good reason. maintaining connections with
Because it is the outcome of the Emotional people in every corner of the or-
other dimensions of emotional ganization.
intelligence, social skill is recog-
nizable on the job in many ways
intelligence Is social skill considered a key
leadership capability in most
that will by now sound familiar.
Socially skilled people, for in-
can be learned. companies? The answer is yes,
especially when compared with
stance, are adept at managing the other components of emo-
teams – that’s their empathy at The process is tional intelligence. People seem
work. Likewise, they are expert to know intuitively that leaders
persuaders – a manifestation of
not easy. It need to manage relationships
effectively; no leader is an island.
and empathy combined. Given
those skills, good persuaders
takes time and After all, the leader’s task is to get
work done through other people,
know when to make an emotional
plea, for instance, and when an commitment. and social skill makes that possi-
ble. A leader who cannot express
appeal to reason will work better. her empathy may as well not
And motivation, when publicly have it at all. And a leader’s moti-
visible, makes such people excellent collaborators; vation will be useless if he cannot communicate his
their passion for the work spreads to others, and passion to the organization. Social skill allows lead-
they are driven to ﬁnd solutions. ers to put their emotional intelligence to work.
But sometimes social skill shows itself in ways
the other emotional intelligence components do It would be foolish to assert that good-old-fash-
not. For instance, socially skilled people may at ioned IQ and technical ability are not important
times appear not to be working while at work. They ingredients in strong leadership. But the recipe
seem to be idly schmoozing – chatting in the hall- would not be complete without emotional intelli-
ways with colleagues or joking around with people gence. It was once thought that the components of
who are not even connected to their “real” jobs. So- emotional intelligence were “nice to have” in busi-
cially skilled people, however, don’t think it makes ness leaders. But now we know that, for the sake of
sense to arbitrarily limit the scope of their relation- performance, these are ingredients that leaders
ships. They build bonds widely because they know “need to have.”
that in these ﬂuid times, they may need help some- It is fortunate, then, that emotional intelligence
day from people they are just getting to know today. can be learned. The process is not easy. It takes
For example, consider the case of an executive in time and, most of all, commitment. But the bene-
the strategy department of a global computer man- ﬁts that come from having a well-developed emo-
ufacturer. By 1993, he was convinced that the com- tional intelligence, both for the individual and for
pany’s future lay with the Internet. Over the course the organization, make it worth the effort.
of the next year, he found kindred spirits and used
his social skill to stitch together a virtual commu- Product no. 3790 To place an order, call 1-800-988-0886.
102 harvard business review November–December 1998
B O I ON G U P H E
E XI PBL L R II N G RFFAURRTTHHY ERR. .. .. .
O R G What Makes a Leader?
“The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact” by “The Ways Chief Executive Officers Lead”
Henry Mintzberg (Harvard Business Review, by Charles M. Farkas and Suzy Wetlaufer
March–April 1990, Product no. 90210) (Harvard Business Review, May–June 1996,
Product no. 96303)
Whereas Goleman emphasizes emotional
intelligence, Mintzberg focuses on specific CEOs inspire a variety of sentiments ranging
skills. In this HBR Classic, Mintzberg uses his from awe to wrath, but there’s little debate
and other research to debunk myths about over CEOs’ importance in the business world.
the manager’s role. Managerial work involves The authors conducted 160 interviews with
interpersonal roles, informational roles, and executives around the world. Instead of find-
decisional roles, he notes. These in turn ing 160 different approaches, they found five,
require the ability to develop peer relation- each with a singular focus: strategy, people,
ships, carry out negotiations, motivate subor- expertise, controls, or change. The five com-
dinates, resolve conflicts, establish informa- ponents of emotional intelligence, singly or in
tion networks and disseminate information, combination, have a great effect on how each
make decisions with little or ambiguous focus is expressed in an organization.
information, and allocate resources. Good
self-management skills are characteristic of
most leaders; outstanding leaders also have
the ability to empathize with others and to
use social skills to advance an agenda.
“The Work of Leadership” by Ronald A. John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do
Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie (Harvard by John P. Kotter (1999, Harvard Business
Business Review, January–February 1997, School Press, Product no. 8974)
Product no. 4150)
In this collection of six articles, Kotter shares
Successfully leading an organization through his observations on the nature of leadership
an adaptive challenge calls for leaders with a gained over the past 30 years. Without leader-
high degree of emotional intelligence. But ship that can deal successfully with today’s
Heifetz and Laurie focus on the requirements increasingly fast-moving and competitive
of adaptive work, not on emotional maturity. business environment, he warns, organiza-
The principles for leading adaptive work tions will slow down, stagnate, and lose their
include: “getting on the balcony,” forming a way. He presents his views on the current
picture of the entire pattern of activity; iden- state of leadership through ten observations
tifying the key challenge; regulating distress; and revisits his now famous eight-step
maintaining disciplined attention; giving the process for organizational transformation. In
work back to the people; and protecting contrast to Goleman’s article on emotional
voices of leadership from below. intelligence, which is about leadership quali-
ties, Kotter’s work focuses on action: What
does a leader do to lead? And how will leader-
ship need to be different in the future?
HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PUBLISHING
U.S. and Canada: 800-988-0886
617-783-7500 • Fax: 617-783-7555
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