Leading from the Heart

O Magazine
March 2002
Annie Gottlieb

The time is long past when the word leader conjured up the image of a steely-jawed man commanding an army, a company, or a nation. Now we've got steely-jawed women, too.

That's a joke, of course. Living in a faltering service-and-information economy, we know good leadership, in a man or a woman, involves far more than just dominance, strategy, and drive. And we recognize true leadership when we see and feel it in our personal heroes.

But obsolete notions linger in the working world. Corporate America took its old command-and-control model from the military back when both institutions were overwhelmingly male and when men were supposed to run purely on reason and aggression. Feelings, then regarded as feminine, had no place in the war called business. So it's a sign of profound and refreshing progress when a psychologist published by Harvard Business School Press asserts, "The primal task of leadership is emotional. People don't leave their feelings at home when they go out the door. We have feelings all the time, and the best leaders tune in to those feelings and move them in a positive direction."

The author is Daniel Goleman, whose earlier books, Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence, became best-sellers because they named a concept we'd unknowingly thirsted for. Readers had a visceral aha reaction to the notion that intelligence is more than the cortical nimbleness quantified by IQ tests, that the smarts that bring true success and satisfaction involve the heart as much as the head: people sense, self knowledge emotional savvy, integrity - in an old fashioned word, wisdom. A former New York Times reporter on brain and behavioral science, Goleman's new book, Primal Leadership - coauthored with Richard Boyatzis, a professor of organizational behavior at Case Western, and Annie McKee, PhD, a management consultant in Philadelphia - says that specific emotional skills, and real caring, are at the heart of effective leadership.

Put simply, the best leaders make people feel good even (and most crucially) in bad times by helping them deal with negative emotions and nurturing their positive ones. Both brain-science and organizational research show that when we feel good we accomplish much more, individually and in groups. Goleman and his coauthors provide hard data that a company's bottom line follows its emotional climate, which in turn flows from its leaders. Abusive, insensitive bosses who make people feel bad get, at best, short-term results.

"Leaders who motivate by rousing hatred or fear burn people out because these emotions are biologically designed for short bursts of action," Goleman says. "If you get that kind of 'motivation' day after day, it exhausts you. You feel terrible. And if it's a good job market, you will leave very quickly. Bad bosses are bad for you- and bad for business. Our data show they bring about lower productivity and organizational performance. Strong leaders motivate through inspiration, guidance, and articulating a shared vision so that people feel enthusiastic and give their best."

Goleman says that deans of admissions at two of the country's top business schools have told him they realize they've put too much emphasis on test scores and will now give more attention to applicants' emotional intelligence. But principles of leadership, Goleman suggests, apply not only to business and politics, but to any setting you might find yourself in. Tuning others' emotions to a shared, upbeat wavelength - Goleman calls it resonance - is something we already do for our families, friends, and coworkers whenever we cope with a crisis, calm someone down or organize a project. Goleman says we can learn to do it more consciously, consistently and skillfully. In other words, wise leaders are made, not born.

"A primal task of leadership is helping someone else handle their feelings better so they can do what they have to do," he says. "A mother making an upset kid feel better is a good illustration. In any work group there's an official leader, but very often there's someone else who others turn to in a crisis- the one who knows how people feel and can help them get through a rocky moment. That's the emotional leader. It's a key role in a group, and I think it's one women often play at work.

"Emotions are contagious," Goleman adds. "People who are bummed out and fed up spread their bad moods wherever they go. Positive people nourish others. Someone who keeps her soul in tact, despite the difficulties of life and work and the scary economy, can make others feel uplifted." A 1999 study conducted by Sigal Barsad, PhD, at The Yale School of Management found that being happy and relaxed is at least as infectious as -if not more than - negative emotions.

Anyone can become a resident leader, Goleman says, by developing the four components of emotional intelligence. The first is self-knowledge-"knowing your own feelings, tuning in to that subtle murmur of moods that goes on all day alongside your stream of thought. Values are our moral rudder," he says. "Whenever you're about to make a decision, take action, or respond to another person, there's an implicit question: Is what I'm about to do or say in keeping with my values, my ethics, my purpose in life? That question is answered for us by our emotions. We don't reason about values. Instead we get a sense: This feels right, or that doesn't feel right. The thinking brain has a lot of information, but it's the feeling brain that has wisdom." Being attuned to your values is integrity. "The best leaders have conviction because they believe in what they're doing," he says.

The second component of emotional intelligence is self-management - being able to handle your distressing moments and keeping yourself motivated and upbeat. Managing negative emotions doesn't mean suppressing or ignoring them - that would make you incapable of empathy, which is the third part of emotional intelligence and a leader's lifeline to those she comforts and inspires. But neither can you allow bad feelings to disable you and poison others. "When you're flooded with negative emotions, they swamp the thinking brain - particularly the decision-making centers - as well as the emotional radar you need to read other's tones of voice and facial expressions," Goleman says. "You see people through your own emotions." Thus, you might dump all over the nearest family member, coworker, or employee. (Goleman calls bosses who do this dissonant leaders.) The fourth part is relationship management, which Goleman defines as "the art of effectively dealing with the other person's emotions, so that both of you feel better at the end of the interaction."

In times of crisis - when great leadership can make the difference between chaos and healing - it is empathy, Goleman says, that grants the power to inspire. "Some of the best leaders asked people to come in the day after September 11 - but not to work, just to talk. And to listen. Listening is crucial in troubled times. And then a good leader articulates the unstated feelings in the group, acknowledging openly what everyone feared was 'just me.' 'Yes, these are tough times,' the leader might, 'and we have to make hard decisions. I know you're worried. I'm worried, too. Let's have an honest conversation.' That is riveting to people, because it helps them share their hearts." Only then can the leader move to "Let's talk about what we can actually do, " articulating a vision that reflects the group's values and purpose.

The strength to lead in hard times can be found in the realm of the spirit, Goleman says. "You need to find something that sustains your soul, your positive feelings about life. It might be prayer, it might be meditation, it might be a project you're doing for homeless people - helping someone else is a wonderful way to help yourself. Whatever it is, if it makes you feel good, take time to do it. We always say, "Oh, that can wait, 'but that's the one thing that actually can't wait. That's the one that you have to build in to your daily routine. Nourish yourself. If you have something you can always turn to inside no matter what's going on outside, then you have a powerful emotional generator for the good stuff.


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