Emotional Intelligence

by Andy Smith

‘Resonant leadership’ and the emotional climate

One of the best books about emotional intelligence and leadership is The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee (US title Primal Leadership). Some of their crucial insights are outlined below.

Emotions are contagious

Daniel Goleman describes the areas of our brain that process emotions as ‘open-loop systems’. In practical terms, this means that the way we feel is influenced by the emotions of other people around us. When we see someone smile at us, for example, the part of our brains associated with smiling ‘lights up’, which tends to make us smile in return.

Positive moods are the most contagious. Depression hardly spreads at all, while irritable moods fall somewhere in between (from a 1998 Yale University School of Management study).

The emotional climate affects results

When people feel good, they think and work more efficiently, with predictable results on creativity, customer relationships, staff retention and revenue. For every 1 per cent improvement in the service climate, there is a 2 per cent increase in revenue. More dramatically, a 1995 study found that the death rate in cardiac units where the nurses’ mood was described as generally ‘depressed’ was four times higher than in comparable units.

The leader sets the climate

In any group, the leader is the person to whom people look for clues as to how to respond when there is uncertainty or a situation not previously encountered. The leader, therefore, is a key influence on the emotional climate of a group.

A ‘resonant’ leader will create a positive mood throughout the organisation, their example encouraging everyone to want to contribute their best efforts. A ‘dissonant’ leader, who engenders a climate of anxiety, doubt or irritability, will act as a brake on the performance of the whole organisation.

The more expressive the leader (in facial expression, voice tone and gesture), the more influence he or she will have on the overall emotional climate.

Sometimes, when a formal leader is emotionally inexpressive, another member of the group will emerge as the ‘emotional leader’. This means that everyone in the team has the ability to make a positive difference to its emotional climate.

‘CEO disease’

If a leader gives a hostile reception to negative feedback or to the bearer of bad news, they will find it impossible to get accurate information, as people will too scared to tell them anything other than what they think the leader wants to hear.

Remember how confused Saddam Hussein looked when US troops pulled him out of his hole in the ground? Saddam, with his tendency to murder or torture close aides and family members who aroused his suspicion, was an extreme example of ‘CEO disease’. It would be very hard for someone with this leadership style to get accurate information. If you were one of his aides, would you have wanted to be the one who told him the war was going badly?