Some leaders just “have it” – the ability to resonate with how people are feeling and the skill to “work” that emotion in a trustworthy way towards a potential solution and indeed, the possibility of success in the future. Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Barak Obama are perhaps some of the “celebrity” leaders who come to mind who have had/have the ability to deliver bad or good news to the nation well – they had/have the ability to empathise with the pain and confusion or the ecstasy of the people and give them hope in spite of gloomy forecasts on the one hand or celebrate success with their followers on the other hand. Likewise, in business, there are many CEO’s that are trusted – transparently they identify with the emotion in the business and understand the emotional climate that exists. These same CEO’s “dock” or identify with this emotion and use it focus, motivate and energise employees and fellow managers. Unfortunately, there are also many managers/leaders that are clueless – they exhibit a total lack of understanding of feelings (expressed or unexpressed) within the business and engender irritation, anger or even rage amongst their managers and employees. They create emotional dissonance through their lack of empathy.
In recent studies in this field by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon, Robert Levenson, Howard Friedman and Ronald Riggio (to name a few), the suggestion is made that human beings rely on connections with other people for their own emotional stability – examples could include a mother soothing her crying child or the knowing glances of two lovers as their emotional memories resonate. Scientific studies in the design of the human brain point to the “open-loop” nature of the limbic system – our emotional centre. A “closed-loop” system, such as the circulatory system, is self-regulating – what is taking place in the circulatory systems of other people do not impact our own systems in any way. An “open-loop” system depends largely on external sources and stimuli to manage itself – signals are transmitted from one person to another, the same of which can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms and even immune function inside the body of another. Critically though, the “open-loop” system seems to influence our emotional health. Moods can be “transmitted” and emotions get “mirrored” in others – negatively in a conflict situation and positively in contexts of love, showing appreciation and verifying a person’s value. The same is true of the boardroom, the office or the shop floor – employees “catch” feelings from each other, but are particularly influenced in this way by their leaders.
Employees “watch” leaders continually – Daniel Goleman, world authority on the topic of emotional intelligence, suggests that “group members generally see the leader’s emotional reaction as the most valid response and so model their own on it”. He further notes in his book, Primal Leadership, “this is particularly true in an ambiguous situation, where various members react differently. In a sense, the leader sets the emotional standard”.
Leaders can mould the emotional reactions of others – as such, they can create environments where hope, positive outlooks, fun and determination/motivation towards success become a reality. These leaders identify with managers and employees alike and act as “emotional magnets”, ensuring a group of focused followers and an environment where the available energy can be applied appropriately to meet targets and goals. They are usually successful.
Emotional intelligence is not innate (already present in you), but is a learned skill. Developing self-awareness, understanding one’s own emotional disposition and managing it and getting to grips with the emotional content of others’ lives are crucially acquired abilities for the leader to be able to focus relationships within the company towards achievement and success.