Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m going back to re-read some of the classics in the leadership literature to see if I can tease out new meanings. Daniel Goleman’s article, “What Makes A Leader?” in Harvard Business Review (1998) is a case in point. We’ve all heard the term “emotional intelligence” but how many of us really remember what it means? How many of us know how to practice the art?
For many male leaders, I think “emotional intelligence” evokes something feminine. Perhaps it’s similar to “soft power” in diplomacy. It’s not a bad thing but is it really crucial? If my company gets in trouble, would I rather have soft power or a cadre of kick-ass sales people who can close deals and generate revenue?
If you read Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men, you may think of emotional intelligence in a new light. Rosin argues that the new economy — largely services rather than manufacturing — requires skills such as flexibility, empathy, self-control, and persuasion. Rosin argues that women are better at these skills than men and that’s why they’re accelerating past men and taking over entire professions like accountancy, pharmacy, and forensic pathology.
Though Rosin doesn’t use the term “emotional intelligence”, the differentiating skills she describes map very closely to Goleman’s five elements of EI. These are: 1) Self-awareness – knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, and their impact on others; 2) Self-regulation — controlling disruptive emotions; 3) Motivation — being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement; 4) Empathy — considering other’s feelings; and, 5) Social skill — managing relationships to move people in desired directions.
Goleman says that these skills are essential to good leadership. Rosin says women are better at them than men are. If they’re both correct, we need to re-think at least some of our leadership development curricula. We also have a fair amount of re-training to do — perhaps mainly of male executives. Fortunately, Goleman provides exercises that will help anyone — male or female — practice and develop these skills.