What Makes a Leader? Daniel Goldman

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What Makes a Leader? Daniel Goleman Books, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman is one of the world’s leading emotional and social intelligence experts. As he publishes his latest collection of articles, he speaks to Ann O’Dea about many topics, including leadership in London.

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Widely acknowledged as the man who brought the concept of emotional intelligence to the masses. Through his 1996 bestseller Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ, Daniel Goleman has just published Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence.  The book collects his ‘must-read’ articles from the Harvard Business Review and key excerpts from his books in one volume.

Emotional Intelligence vs. IQ: Understanding the Differences

Goleman elaborates on his thoughts about emotional intelligence versus IQ. Does he believe the former is more important than the latter?

“Well, to ask the question, you must say important for what?” Goleman begins. “Both are important, but they’re important in different ways. IQ, which is mostly the rate at which you acquire new cognitive information and understanding, is essential for success in school, mastering technical skills, and a broad range of applications.

“If you look at the literature, IQ is a powerful predictor of what kind of job you can get and hold. In other words, what’s the complexity level you can manage daily? So to be a physician, barrister, or high-level executive, you need to have an IQ that’s probably above average, and that’s a necessary skill. However, those only get you so far in the working world.

“IQ is not sufficient to predict, once you’re in that position, that you will emerge as an outstanding performer and leader. Unknown if you’ll emerge as a leader at all. So, you’re dealing with a different skill set when it comes to leadership. You need to have self-mastery, you need to lead yourself as they say, and also you need to persuade, empathize, listen, communicate, elaborate, and do all those things that require people skills. That’s the emotional intelligence domain.

“In other words, once you’re in a high-level situation, IQ matters less in distinguishing stars from average performers. It is interpersonal skills that make the difference.

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Leadership Fundamentals

The Harvard Business Review chose his article ‘What Makes a Leader’ as one of the 10 ‘must-read’ articles from its pages. Republished in his new collection of works, Goleman takes us through the fundamentals of leadership.

“Well, there are four domains of emotional intelligence, and that article marches us through each one,” he says. “The first is self-awareness, and self-awareness is an impressive set of abilities because it’s invisible to people, subtle, and highly underrated. Self-awareness is essential for the other three domains.

Daniel Goleman - What Makes a Leader
Daniel Goleman – What Makes a Leader
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“The second is self-management; if you don’t know what’s happening inside yourself, you will be very poor at managing others. It’s about having the ability to control your own emotions so they don’t block your ability to think well, to create, to innovate, to stay fixed on a goal, and the drive to achieve. Those are self-management skills.

“Empathy is the third, and it again requires good self-awareness. A lot of research, even at the level of brain function, shows that people who are low in self-awareness cannot attune to other people or read them.

“The fourth domain in emotional intelligence is social skills. This last is about managing relationships, and it involves the most apparent leadership skills – persuasion, influence, communication, elaboration, and teamwork.

“So what you’re doing is putting together your ability to manage yourself, your ability to read the other person and know what to do and what to say next, to be skillful interpersonally – and those three all build from self-awareness.”

“My associates in the Hay Group have some authentic data now showing that leaders who are low in self-awareness typically fail to develop strengths in these other domains,” he says.

Three Kinds of Empathy

Goleman points to the three types of compassion in the self-awareness domain. The first, he says, is cognitive empathy. “This is about being able to understand how the other person thinks. Leaders who are good at this can express things in a way that impacts people, which reaches people effectively.

“There’s data, for example, from the Esade Business School in Spain that shows that managers with that ability in cognitive empathy get better than expected performances from their reports. Interestingly, executives with the real cognitive understanding also do better in foreign postings because they can ‘get’ the other culture and respond to people in a way they can understand.”

The second kind of empathy is emotional empathy, says Goleman. “Emotional empathy is about feeling wit. This is an unconscious ability. It has to do with a brain system called mirror neurons that tune into the person we’re with and activate in our brain what they’re feeling, what they’re doing, and what they’re intending. So we get a clear sense of what’s happening with the other person. This creates chemistry, and you need that for any interaction.”

The third kind of empathy is an empathic concern, Goleman continues.  “This refers to the kind of leader who cares about you, tunes into you, and will help you by creating a situation whereby you can be your best. So, all three of those are very important for leaders.”

The Immutable Nature of Your Intelligence Quotient

You cannot change your IQ, says Goleman, but the good news, he says, is that you can improve your emotional intelligence. “You can develop it, particularly regarding specific competencies that distinguish outstanding leaders. There is plenty of research on this. Emotional intelligence has to do with capacity, not a fixed capacity, and it tends to grow.

“When we say someone is mature, we’re talking about their emotional intelligence, self-mastery, and how they relate to others. There are many proven methodologies. Research has shown that coaching will take an executive at one level and move them to the next level. So, the good news is yes, it can be enhanced.”

According to Goleman, not all management will see the value in developing emotional intelligence in its leaders and teams. Some will fail to see the correlation between working and emotional intelligence. “Well, I think some executives struggle with the idea that enhancing soft skills will have hard results, but there’s lots of data now showing, indeed, more emotionally intelligent leaders get better business results.”

The Art of the Critique

Another area Goleman tackles in the new collection is the art of the review and how good leaders get it just right. “It is all about realizing that this is a golden opportunity for you to help someone else get better, instead of just off the cuff giving them criticism, which has quite adverse effects on people.

“You can take a moment, pause, and give the person feedback saying, ‘When you did X, it didn’t work well, and that was for Y reason.’ That gets the person’s attention, and it’s beneficial if you can say exactly what they could have done that would have been better. An even more intelligent critique is to help them understand how they can get better, what they can do to practice, and how you can help them get it right next time. That’s a much better kind of use of that moment as a leader.”

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The Detrimental Effects of Negative Emotions on Business Performance

Goleman also tackles how negative moods can impact business results in his book. “There’s a new field in brain science; it’s called affective neuroscience, and it studies how emotions operate in the brain,” he begins.

“What they have discovered is that the emotional centers have powerful connections to the thinking centers, particularly the prefrontal cortex just behind the forehead, and they have found that strong negative emotions, particularly, highjack this part of the brain, take it over and drive it, and they shrink its ability to function well.

“It has to do with something called working memory, which is what you’re holding in mind right now, what you’re focusing on, what has your attention. Working memory is a fixed capacity, and to the extent that you’re having angry, anxious, or frustrated thoughts, they intrude into that space and make it smaller. This is where we think creatively; this is where we make the right decisions; this is where we plan well. This is where innovation occurs.

“So negative moods shut down people’s ability to function well. The correlator, of course, is positive. Making people feel they can relax, that they’re safe, they can take risks, and so on, opens up that capacity.  Good leaders know that, and they know that the primary job of leadership is to help people stay in the brain state, where they can work at their best.”

An Established Field of Leadership

Goleman says good leaders know this, but I ask him to what extent emotional intelligence is now accepted in management thinking, some twenty-five years after he published his bestseller Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ.

“I think the idea of emotional intelligence as a means has become quite widespread, although not among all,” he says. “I was talking to a 20-something who is working in a new media consultancy that specializes in spotting trends, helping companies understand where things are moving, particular patterns among young people. He said matter-of-factly, ‘You know, if you don’t have real emotional intelligence, we don’t want you on our team.’ I think it’s more taken for granted among these younger leaders.

“However, it remains a harder sell, I think, among older generation leaders who are acculturated to a different style and model of leadership.  But I think the future gets this.”

Top Ten Traits of Great Leaders

Great leaders possess unique qualities and skills that enable them to inspire, motivate, and guide others toward achieving shared goals. They are visionaries who can identify opportunities, navigate challenges, and foster a positive work environment. Some key characteristics and traits that define great leaders include:

  1. Vision: Great leaders have a clear idea and long-term perspective on their organization’s objectives. They can communicate this vision effectively, rallying their team members around a common purpose and instilling a sense of direction and focus.
  2. Emotional Intelligence: As highlighted by Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in leadership. Great leaders possess self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills, enabling them to connect with others, manage their emotions, and create a supportive work culture.
  3. Decisiveness: Great leaders can make tough decisions quickly and confidently, considering the potential risks and consequences while keeping the best interests of their organization in mind.
  4. Adaptability: The ability to adapt to changing circumstances, embrace new ideas, and learn from experience is essential for great leaders. They can pivot when necessary, responding effectively to challenges and opportunities.
  5. Resilience: Great leaders demonstrate strength in the face of setbacks or failures, maintaining their composure and staying focused on their objectives. They can bounce back quickly from adversity and inspire their teams to do the same.
  6. Integrity: Trustworthiness and ethical behavior are hallmarks of great leaders. They lead by example, demonstrating honesty, fairness, and accountability in all their actions, which helps build trust and loyalty among their team members.
  7. Communication: Effective communication is vital for great leaders. They can articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly, listen actively, provide constructive feedback, and foster open team dialogue.
  8. Empowerment: Great leaders empower their team members, providing them with the tools, resources, and support needed to achieve their goals. They encourage autonomy, delegate responsibility, and recognize individual strengths and talents.
  9. Confidence: Great leaders exude confidence in their abilities, decisions, and vision, instilling a sense of trust and assurance among their team members.
  10. Humility: While confident in their abilities, great leaders also recognize the value of humility. They are open to feedback, acknowledge their limitations, and give credit to their team members for their accomplishments.

By cultivating these traits and skills, great leaders can drive their organizations toward success, inspire their teams, and leave a lasting impact.

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The Essence of Leadership and the Significance of Emotional Intelligence

Effective Leaders – It is said that the most influential leaders, not only in business but in every field, share similar traits. One that is most common, which is often found in an outstanding leader, is achieved instead of gifted: self-regulation. This is controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods.

Sharing Their Vision – “Communication with those they are leading is key, and they understand that without communication, their effectiveness as a leader would be greatly diminished.”

Lead By Example – In the current landscape, most will ignore leaders who rely on words instead of deeds.

Demonstrate Integrity – Are they consistent in what they believe in and stand for, and do not break from outside influence or pressure?

Communicate Effectively – along with Sharing Their Vision, effective communication is paramount to a well-respected leader.

Making The Hard Decisions – One of the biggest keys to a great leader is making tough decisions decisively. If the leader hesitates, they can cause significant damage to the organization.

Recognize Success – Not just with the company, but with the individuals. It is said that working without recognition is a sure way to alienate the workforce.

Empower Others – No one can do it all themselves. Great leaders see the potential and talent in others and utilize that to allow them to thrive in the workplace and become respected in their position to take the company to a higher level.

Motivate and Inspire – While motivation should come from within, often getting that spark lit inside of someone is all that is needed to allow for greatness to be achieved.

Social Skill – This is a crucial component of successful management. Building rapport with others to move them. Goleman found it an asset when having a wide circle of acquaintances and finding common ground with people of all kinds.

Emotional Intelligence – This includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. While these can sound unbusinesslike, Goleman found direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable business results.  He found that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence. When dealing with mergers, if your leader possesses emotional intelligence, they can naturally be a sensitive negotiator. 

About Daniel Goleman

Psychologist Daniel Goleman is recognized as one of the world’s leading emotional and social intelligence experts. His book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ brought the concept to the masses back in 1996. It has sold over five million copies and has been translated into 30 languages.

In his book Primal Leadership (The New Leaders), he defined the emotional dimensions of outstanding leadership. In contrast, his 2006 book, Social Intelligence, The New Science of Human Relationships, delved further into building committed, motivated organizations. His latest collection, Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence, can be purchased at www.morethansound.net.


“What Makes a Leader?” is a seminal article written by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman and published in the Harvard Business Review in 1998. In this article, Goleman introduced the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) as a critical factor in leadership effectiveness, arguing that it was more important than traditional measures of intelligence (IQ) and technical skills.

Goleman identified five key components of emotional intelligence that contribute to strong leadership:

  1. Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values, and motivations. Leaders with high self-awareness can make better decisions and manage their emotions effectively.
  2. Self-regulation: The ability to control one’s emotions and impulses, staying flexible and adaptable in the face of change or challenges. Leaders who can self-regulate demonstrate a high level of emotional resilience and can create a positive and stable work environment.
  3. Motivation: The drive to achieve beyond external factors such as money or status. Motivated leaders are committed to their organization’s goals, exhibit a strong work ethic, and inspire others to perform at their best.
  4. Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of others, enabling leaders to connect with their team members and respond to their needs. Empathetic leaders can build strong relationships, foster collaboration, and create a supportive work culture.
  5. Social skills: Managing relationships, building networks, and influencing the other three domains. Leaders with strong social skills can communicate their vision, resolve conflicts, and persuade others to support their ideas and initiatives.

Goleman’s groundbreaking work on emotional intelligence has been widely recognized as a crucial aspect of leadership development. Many organizations now incorporate EI training into their leadership programs, acknowledging that cultivating these skills can lead to more effective, resilient, and successful leaders.

Goleman also worked as a science journalist for The New York Times, reporting on psychology and brain sciences. What Makes a Leader Harvard Business Review.

Publisher: Harvard Business School

Social Intelligence and Leadership

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