Print this!  Bookmark and Share

Emotional Intelligence

"Good leadership consists of doing less and being more."


Leaders help us to learn to make our own meanings in our lives. Leaders, through their relationships and influence, teach us that we can control our lives and that we are capable of creating meaning through our actions but more importantly through who we are.

At the end of the first installment, we spoke of self-mastery as a key to leader development. Today’s installment will extend that theme further.

Many leadership theories focus on a number of elements: 1) the organizational context of leadership, 2), a certain set of behaviors or skills and 3) personal characteristics of leaders. This month we will deal with personal characteristics of leaders as well as certain behaviors or skill sets that enhance one’s leadership abilities.

Much of what we will cover this month has to do with “emotional intelligence” and will be based on the popular works of Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of Emotional Intelligence, Working with Emotional Intelligence, and his latest work Social Intelligence. (Please see below under bibliography for further references).

Many of you will be familiar with this topic, for some it will be new material.

In the Wizard and the Warrior, authors Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal make the following reference: “Peter Drucker once said, everything you learned is wrong. At best, it is misleading and insufficient. You typically learn in school, workshops, and seminars, that if you can manage the work and serve the people, you have what it takes. It’s not true. Maybe you have enough stuff to be a pretty good manager, but it takes a lot more to be a good leader.”

Again, this reflects back on Kotter’s HBR discussion of “What Leaders Really Do”: the difference between a manager and a leader. It’s not that you can’t learn to be a leader it is just that pedagogically how you approach self-directed learning about being a leader is different.

As a physician, it is taken for granted that you have enough technical ability as well as intellectual ability to do your job. These issues are threshold competencies and you wouldn’t have been accepted to medical school or be where you are now if you didn’t posses these skills.

But the rules of work are changing. People will look at you, and quite likely you will judge yourself, not by how smart you are (i.e., your IQ) but rather how you deal with people. It is not your “book knowledge” or your training that defines how successful you are as a physician. What matters most is your emotional intelligence. What matters most is your personal qualities such as initiative, empathy, adaptability, and persuasiveness. What matters most is how we handle ourselves as well as each other.

Neuroscience tells us that the emotional part of the brain, the more ancient parts of the brain, such as the amygdala, learn differently from the thinking brain. These areas harbor the skills needed for managing ourselves effectively and our social adeptness.

Conceptually, emotional intelligence comes from a psychological construct of multiple intelligences first proposed by Salovey and Mayer and later expanded upon by Howard Gardner. It is important to realize that emotional intelligence does not mean merely being nice (it actually may entail bluntly confronting an individual about a difficult situation), nor does it mean giving free rein to feelings but rather managing feelings so that they are expressed appropriately and effectively. Emotional intelligence skills allow people to work together toward common goals.

As opposed to IQ, which changes little after your preteen years, emotional intelligence is not fixed genetically nor does it only develop in childhood. Emotional intelligence is largely learned and continues to develop as you go through life. As you learn from your experiences, you continue to grow in emotional intelligence competencies. As you live life, you become more skilled at honing your empathy and social adroitness.

There is an old-fashioned word for this growth in emotional intelligence: maturity.

Although people today view their careers, jobs, and personal development differently, people can plateau in their position or derail their lives because of crucial gaps in emotional intelligence.

Goleman speaks of the following necessary skills:

  • Listening and oral communication
  • Adaptability and creative responses to setbacks and obstacles
  • Personal management, confidence, motivation to work toward principled goals, a sense of wanting to develop oneself and take pride in one’s accomplishments
  • Group and interpersonal effectiveness, cooperativeness and teamwork, skills at negotiating disagreements
  • Effectiveness in your relationships, your group or organization, wanting to make a contribution, leadership potential

Goleman goes on to indicate that of seven desired traits, just one was academic: competence in reading, writing, and math. It is unfortunate that our education system and admission tests put so much emphasis on IQ because IQ alone explains surprisingly little of achievement at work or in life. Goleman discusses studies that show that IQ accounts for about 25% of the difference in people’s lives; most studies he quotes put the value at no more that 10% and perhaps as low as 4%.

In other words, IQ does not determine who succeeds or who fails.

A Harvard study in the fields of law, medicine, teaching, and business found that scores on entrance exams, essentially a surrogate for IQ, had zero or negative correlation with an individual’s eventual career success. Paradoxically, emotional intelligence has greater value for success the higher the intelligence barriers for entry into the field, such as medicine.

Interestingly, the difference between those at the high and low ends of the emotional intelligence scale is very large. “Soft” skills matter more for success than “hard” skills.
To quote Goleman: “Emotional intelligence skills are synergistic with cognitive ones: top performers have both. The more complex the job (such as medicine, italics mine), the more emotional intelligence matters---if only because a deficiency in these abilities can hinder the use of whatever technical expertise or intellect a person may have.”

Emotional competence is a learned capability based on emotional intelligence that can lead to outstanding relationships that will have a positive influence on those around you.
Empathy, which involves accurately reading the feelings of other, and social skills, which allows for the artful handling of those feelings, is at the heart of emotional competence.

Our emotional intelligence is key to our potential skills as physicians. Being good at serving one’s patients is an emotional competence based on empathy. Trustworthiness is a competence that is based on self-regulation. Both of these competencies are critical in helping to make one an outstanding physician.

However, being strong in emotional intelligence does not mean that you have learned the emotional competencies that matter for becoming a physician; it means only that they have excellent potential to learn them.

Goleman lays out a framework by explaining: “Emotional competencies cluster into groups, each based on a common underlying emotional intelligence capacity. The underlying emotional capacities are vital if people are to successfully learn the competencies necessary to succeed (as a physician, italics mine).”

Goleman continues: “These emotional intelligence capacities are:

Independent: Each makes a unique contribution to job performance

Interdependent: Each draws to some extent on certain others, with many strong interactions

Hierarchical: The emotional intelligence capacities build upon one another. Self awareness is crucial for self-regulation and empathy.

Necessary, but not sufficient: Having an underlying emotional intelligence ability does not guarantee people will develop or display the associated competencies such as collaboration or leadership…factors such as the climate of the organization or a person’s interest in his or her job will also determine whether the competence manifest itself

Generic: The general list is to some extent applicable to all jobs.”

In Goleman’s emotional competence framework (as laid out below, from his Working with Emotional Intelligence), there are two main competencies, personal competence (those competencies that determine how we manage ourselves) and social competence (those competencies that determine how we handle our relationships).

Personal competence lends itself to three main areas: 1) self-awareness, 2) self-regulation, and 3) motivation.

1) Self awareness refers to knowing one’s own states, preferences, resources, and intuitions. In essence it is emotional awareness; recognizing one’s emotions and their effects.

2) Self regulation refers to managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources with the following elements:

  • Self-control: Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check
  • Trustworthiness: Maintaining standards of honesty and integrity
  • Conscientiousness: Taking personal responsibility for personal performance
  • Adaptability: Flexibility in handling change
  • Innovation: Being comfortable with new ideas, approaches, and new information

3) Motivation refers to those emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate reaching one’s
goals, no matter how you define them. This has the following elements:

  • Drive: Striving to meet a standard of excellence (this may be personal or professional)
  • Commitment: Aligning with the goals of a group or organization (this group may be a small as your rounding team or an organization as large as Kaiser Permanente)
  • Initiative: Willingness to act on opportunities
  • Optimism: Persistence in pursuing personal goals despite obstacles and setbacks

As to social competence, so critical in being an outstanding physician, those competencies that determine how we handle our relationships, there are two broad areas that we will explore: 1) empathy, and 2) social skills.

1) Empathy is that critical awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns. The important elements fall under these categories:

  • Understanding others: Sensing others’ feelings and perspectives, and taking an active interest in their concerns
  • Developing others: Sensing others’ development needs and bolstering their abilities
  • Service orientation: Anticipating, recognizing, and meeting patients’ or colleagues’ needs
  • Leveraging diversity: Cultivating opportunities through different kinds of people
  • Political awareness: Reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships

2) Social skills refers to adeptness in developing relationships and includes these important elements:

  • Influence: Wielding effective skills for persuasion
  • Communication: Listening openly and sending convincing messages (this element, specifically active listening, is perhaps the most important social skill to develop)
  • Conflict management: Negotiating and resolving disagreements
  • Leadership: Inspiring and guiding groups and individuals
  • Change catalyst: Understanding, embracing, and facilitating change
  • Building bonds: Nurturing instrumental relationships
  • Collaboration: Working with others toward shared goals
  • Team capabilities: Creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals

In the field of academic medicine, high IQ, where you went to undergraduate, medical school, as well as post graduate training and technical competence (such as research ability, size of grants that one has accomplished) seem to be highly valued. Often these “valued” individuals, because of their technical skills, which is why they were promoted into higher management positions in the first place, have problems. Once they reach higher positions, their technical strength becomes a liability.

The Peter Principle is at work here---people being promoted to their level of incompetence---and their arrogance may lead them to offend their peers (remember the challenges we discussed re: primus inter pares, first among equals) or to micromanage their subordinates (even those with better technical expertise!). These individuals who are promoted because of this expertise find themselves at a completely different level where most of their duties revolve around people, developing relationships and influencing people, not their technical expertise.

To quote Goleman’s book further: “In an unusual study began at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1950’s, eighty Ph.D. students in science went through an intensive battery of IQ and personality tests, as well as extensive interviews with psychologists who evaluated them on such qualities as emotional balance and maturity, integrity, and interpersonal effectiveness.

Forty year later, when the former students were in their early seventies, researches tracked them down again. In the 1994 follow-up, estimates were made of each person’s career success on the basis of resumes, evaluations by experts in their own field, and sources like American Men and Women of Science. The result: Emotional intelligence abilities were about four times more important than IQ in determining professional success and prestige---even for these scientists.”

What makes the difference is not your grade point average, but rather personal qualities, how you deal with people, how well you listen, and qualities such as perseverance, finding a mentor, and hard work.

This month, there are two areas that we will end with and briefly touch upon now but will return to explore in greater depth over the next few months.

Servant leadership, which we will explore next month in depth through the works of Robert Greenleaf, begins with empathy. This topic (empathy) is absolutely critical to becoming the best possible physician that you can become. Sensing what others feel without the other individual verbalizing these feelings, sensing their emotions in their tone of voice, facial expression, or other non-verbal ways, is the essence of empathy.

This skill, the ability to sense this subtle communication, is a remarkable part of being an expert physician. Those who lack empathy, those who are emotionally tone deaf, are socially awkward and lack sensitivity. People who lack empathy tend to respond to people as stereotypes rather than the unique people that they are.

In Working with Emotional Intelligence, Goleman states: “At the very least, empathy requires being able to read another’s emotions; at a higher level, it entails sensing and responding to a person’s unspoken concerns or feelings. At the highest levels, empathy is understanding the issues or concerns that lie behind another’s feelings....The key to knowing others’ emotional terrain is an intimate familiarity with our own.”

“Partners adept at empathizing do something quite extraordinary physiologically: Their own body mimics their partner’s while they empathize. If the heart rate of the partner in the videotape goes up, so does the heart rate of the partner who is empathizing; if the heart rate slows downs, so does that of the empathic spouse. This mimicry involves a biologic phenomenon called entrainment, a sort of intimate emotional tango.”

“Such highly attuned rapport demands we put aside our own emotional agenda for the time being so that we can clearly receive the other person’s signals. When we are caught up in our own strong emotions, we are off on a different physiological vector, impervious to the more subtle cues that allow rapport.”

Empathy is a subtle and intimate dance that we are hard wired to engage in (again, the amygdala plays a key role in this attunement), but how well we use this capacity is largely a learned ability that depends on one’s motivation. As part of this degree of empathy, active listening, namely going beyond what is said by asking questions, means listening well and deeply; this is “active listening.” The extent to which we master this degree of empathy as well as active listening determines our social competence and often is the first step in leadership.

Goleman updates and explores these concepts in greater detail in his latest book: Social Intelligence.

This ability, empathy, is at the heart of the concept of servant leadership.

Finally, transformational leadership, which we will explore in more depth in two months, is very much based on emotional intelligence. As we explore the works of George MacGregor Burns and others on this topic, we will learn that transformational leaders don’t order or direct, they inspire. In articulating their vision or direction, they are not only intellectually stimulating, but they reach us at an emotional level; they develop relationships and influence people in unique ways.


Drucker, Peter F., The Essential Drucker, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001.
A one volume work with twenty six selections on management and the organization, the individual, and society. Although a potpourri (and therefore not as smooth flowing as one of his complete works), this book serves as a superb single volume introduction to Drucker’s sixty years of writing.

Drucker, Peter F., Adventures of a Bystander, (Trailblazer, Rediscovering the Pioneers of Business), New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
A re-issue of an earlier published book, an autobiographical classic considered the best of his nearly three dozen books by readers and Drucker himself. For the last 60 years, Peter Drucker has been writing about everything from management and economics to philosophy and politics with an unorthodox perspective on society. This personal and informal work portrays Drucker as a leader and thinker of infinite curiosity; imaginative, sympathetic, and enormously interested in people, ideas, and the forces behind them.

Drucker, Peter F., Post-Capitalist Society, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1993.
Peter Drucker truly is a one of a kind thinker. He has amazing insight regarding modern history as well as future trends. This book can clearly help a leader know where he or she is leading (or should be leading) and can help one anticipate the future climate that will affect individuals and organizations.

Drucker, Peter F., Managing for the Future, New York: Truman Talley Books / Plume Printing, 1992.
More insights from the master.

Gardner, Howard, Changing Minds, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
With the thoroughness of a research psychologist, Gardner provides insights into the complex human behavior of how we change our minds and those of others. Although well written for the popular audience and very useful from a leadership standpoint, it does lean towards the academic in terms of its target audience.

Goleman, Daniel, Emotional Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books, 1995.
An excellent book that highlights the importance of emotional intelligence as opposed to cognitive aspects of intelligence in the pursuit of self-awareness, motivation, conflict management, and team-building.

Goleman, Daniel, Working with Emotional Intelligence, New York: Bantam
Books, 1998.

This volume helps to focus the issue of emotional intelligence in the setting of leadership. The new standard takes for granted having enough intellectual ability and technical know-how to do the job; it focuses instead on personal qualities, such as initiative and empathy, adaptability and persuasiveness.

Goleman, Daniel, Boyatzis, Richard, and McKee, Annie, Primal Leadership, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
An excellent addition to Goleman’s above two works. Extends the concept of emotional intelligence and leadership further with a reworking of some of the principles outlined in Goleman’s 1998 book. Also, adds more insight into emotional intelligence and groups. The authors state that the primal job of leadership is essentially emotional and that the fundamental task of a leader is to create resonance, a term they use to describe a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people.

Goleman, Daniel, Social Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books, 2006.
A further development from Goleman’s writings on emotional intelligence spanning the 1990s, but updated with a new focus, namely social intelligence. The field of social neuroscience has expanded dramatically in the last 15 years with new insights into the nuances of social behavior with implications for all our relationships. Goleman’s work is for the layman and reads easily but is extensively referenced. For a more scientific summary of social neuroscience see: Thomas Insel and Russell Fernald, "How the Brain Processes Social Information: Searching for the Social Brain," Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27 (2004), pp. 697-722.

Module 2:
Emotional Intelligence