Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Writers and researchers on emotional intelligence and leadership sometimes use the phrase primal leadership to describe their view on the place of emotion in a leader’s role. This seems like a weird word to use. Primal has (at least) two meaning that help us understand why they use it. Something is primal if it is:

  • original, early, first in time
  • primary, basic, of first importance

They believe that emotions are primal to leadership in both senses. Humanity’s primordial leaders where chieftains or shamans who compelled by emotional leadership. And modern business leaders have the task of both driving collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing away toxic emotions. But how?

Resonant Leadership vs Dissonant Leadership

Resonant leaders drive emotions positively, by pulling others through their vision and example. Dissonant leaders undermine the emotional foundations that let people shine. Daniel Goleman has detected six leadership styles, or different methods of showing leadership in different contexts and to different people. It is possible to move between them, and a good leader will do that, even using the dissonant styles when necessary.

The four resonant leadership styles are:

  1. visionary – moves people towards shared dreams
  2. coaching – connects what people want with company goals
  3. affiliative – creates harmony by connecting people
  4. democratic – encourages people’s input and participation

Dissonant leadership styles are:

  1. pace-setting – meets challenging and exciting goals
  2. commanding – gives clear directions in an emergency

Attunement vs Alignment

Some leaders speak of their task in terms of aligning their people with their strategy or goal. This leaves a mechanical impression of the role of leaders: people are objects to be arranged in straight lines, like so many cogs. But support requires the emotional as well as the rational parts of the brain. The concept of attuning more fully describes a leader’s role, with its suggestion of the harmony of the instruments in an orchestra. Attunement requires a direct connection with people’s emotional centres. It achieves this through involving people deeply in the process and allowing them to make decisions about their place in it.

Threshold Abilities vs Distinguishing Abilities

Many leaders find themselves in a position of leadership simply because they tick several of the correct boxes. The have the basic skills that everyone has to have to do the job. This usually amounts to standard mix of IQ, technical skills and personality traits. They are average rather than outstanding in terms of their performance. Leadership experts suggest it is better to disregard the standard criteria if you want star results. Instead, start with high performers, compare them to average performers, and find out what makes leaders in the field. These are the real leadership abilities, or, as Goleman calls them, the eight ‘distinguishing competencies’.

Process vs Program

Once you realise the need for emotionally intelligent leadership at all levels of an organisation, the questions become a matter of how exactly to roll it out. Traditionally, organisations have answered this question by means of one-time training and educational programs. These are necessary but not sufficient. What is required is an entire process that not only fills minds with information, but permeates every level of the organisation.

Such a process not only educated individuals, but also works with teams and the company culture too. Through coaching, it will apply lessons learned and provide feedback on progress. It will take the form of an emotional as well as intellectual journey. Without all these aspects in place, the leadership produces will simple take the form of theory and certificates.

We believe that you can learn emotional intelligence like any other set of skills. The same goes for leadership. We’ve taught and coached EI for over a decade, at universities and for businesses. Contact us to find out what we can do for your organisation.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Can You Learn Emotional Intelligence?

Either you ‘re smart or you ‘re not.

That ‘s how most people think. You are born with a certain brain and, like your height or the colour of your eyes, there isn ‘t much that you can do about it. You can study, read, and practice. But your potential peak is already set by your DNA, and you can’t alter that, outside of science-fiction anyway.

Well, actually, you can. There is a great deal you can do. Especially in the realm of emotional intelligence, or those capacities you have to understand and manager our own emotions, and those of others. This is important for two reasons. After a score of 120, IQ ceases to be a factor in success, especially in leadership. And success in the workplace is about 20% dependent on IQ; EQ is the largest other (but not only other) factor.

Intelligence is Multiple

Psychologist Robert Sternberg found that there were three types of intelligence: analytic, creative and practical. Only the first is linked to academic prowess. Educationalist Howard Gardener proposed eight intelligences, two of which are intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence, the essence of EI. Everyone has gifts; everyone can become gifted.

Intelligence is Mastery

Some models of EI view it as a set of traits, located at the lower levels of personality. But the most experts understand EI as a set of abilities. These abilities show themselves in our behaviour, as we adapt to different situations and solve various problems. Motivation and empathy, and especially the social and communication skills, are habits we can master with training and practice, lots of practice, approximately 10.000 hours of it!

Intelligence is Mindset

Carol Dweck has popularised the idea that there are two mindsets fixed and growth and that these two mindsets determine success in different areas, including learning. Someone with a fixed mindset want to be told they ‘re smart, that smartness is an ability, and they they either have it or don ‘t. A growth mindset person believes that smartness depends on effort and attitude, and that they can learn whatever they want.

Intelligence is Malleable

Science is providing evidence that the brain isn ‘t static but rather malleable, that is, able to continually changing in response to new information and experiences. This concept is called neuroplasticity, and applies also to intelligence. Even capabilities normally associated with IQ such as reasoning and memory can shift over time and with training.

Ah yes, “with training.” That’s where we come in. The Sensei team train and coach on all these areas, and have done so since our start. We’ve helped people in workplaces, universities, and schools learn emotional intelligence. And we love to work with you too. In the mean time, if you want your brain expanded a little, try juggling or comedy, maybe at the same time!

One is Not Born, But Rather Becomes, Gifted!

The whole ‘nature versus nurture’ debate is increasingly fought out in the field of education. In an interesting article called Nature, nurture and exam results, Mike Baker looks at the current state of play. Which is, that a child’s family background largely dictates their potential for academic success.

According to Professor Chris Woodhead – former controversial Chief Inspector of Schools in England – genetic inheritance plays the decisive factor. He has a swathe of anecdotal evidence on his side.

Yet others, coming at matters form a more policy-making agenda, want to play up the part of social class as a determinant.

However kids start off, “subsequent educational success is more likely to go to those with affluent, middle-class parents” says the article. Those nefarious suburbanites are at it again!

I have only a few points to make.

Intelligence is Not the Same as Academic Skill

The article, and most of those in the education sector, seem to equate the two. One would think that they had never heard of Multiple Intelligence Theory, probably the best theory in the world (in a Carlsbergian sense). Traditional academic skill in words and numbers is one way of expressing intelligence. There are others – bodily movement, personal interactions, attunement with nature, capacity for self-reflection, spatial awareness, and musical appreciation.

So the question is not whether you are intelligent, but in what way you express it. The education system in the UK has still not faced up to this liberating truth.

In my opinion, monkeys can be taught to pass exams. It’s not the big deal we were told it was.

Motivation is More Important than Raw Ability When it Comes to Life Success

The world seems increasingly full of academically smart people (i.e. university graduates) who aren’t making much of their lives. They don’t know what they want, they aren’t interested in self-improvement, they work for money and nothing more. The averagely bright person with enthusiasm will always ace the smart person who can’t be bothered trying or who fades out at the first setback.

And the twist is, this very ability to motivate yourself is in itself a form of intelligence! (Emotional intelligence writers call motivation “the master aptitude” for a good reason.) So perhaps that supposedly ‘average but optimistic’ kid isn’t so average after all.

The great thing is that you can learn this optimism. You can grow your own self-motivation skills. You can teach yourself to be resilient when the chips seem down.

You can become gifted.

Image credit: Werwin15.


Since working with Aware Defeat Depression on the Mood Matters programme, I’ve been looking for another opportunity to get involved with a mental health organisation. Recently an opportunity arose for a Sessional Trainer with CAUSE. I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be working with CAUSE on two of their programmes.

Resilience for Carers

This one day course examines our ability to bounce back from setbacks and the impact that resilience and emotional intelligence can have on your role as a carer. Using real life examples, it helps us realise the skills we are currently using and motivates us to build on those to support our caring role.

Carers Course PREP

“The CAUSE Carers course consists of six short lively modular workshops with interactive discussions, guest speakers and information on the fundamentals you need as a carer of someone with a serious mental illness.”

Read more about training for carers at CAUSE.

Resilience Authors

The one of particular interest to me is the Resilience topic, since Sensei already delivers the topic to organisations across Ireland. For me, resilience is best defined using some of the most inspiring thinkers I’ve read:

  • Langer, On Becoming An Artist in which she talks about enjoying the now, without stressing about the outcome
  • Langer, Counterclockwise in which she talks about our society’s distasteful tendency to discard the old and remove all choice from their lives, and shows a better way that alleviates (and sometimes heals) the natural ageing process and fosters happiness at all stages in life
  • Goleman, Emotional Intelligence in which he posits EI as the source of success, contentment and progress in life, relationships, communication and work
  • Seligman, Learned Optimism in which he argues for a conscious route to a more productive, creative life through the discipline of optimistic approach to life

If you’d like to arrange a Resilience workshop for your workplace, contact us.

Develop Your Inner Psychopath

My fascination with what makes a psychopath was yanked again recently. Psychopaths are usually characterised as those who possess no empathy, marking them out from the rest of us as cold and emotionless. Empathy is a central plank of our Emotional Intelligence and is understood as the ability of recognising emotions in others and attuning to subtle social signals given out by others. It is the fundamental people skill, according to Daniel Goleman.

What is empathy?

Empathising can be thought of as the drive to identify another person ‘s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. The empathiser intuitively figures out how people are feeling, and how to treat people with care and sensitivity. Sometimes it is called ’emotional attunement ‘.

Empathy is built on self-awareness. The more you are open to your own emotions, the more skilled you will be in reading feelings. But in practical terms, the key to intuiting other people ‘s emotions lies in the ability to read non-verbal cues voice tone, gesture, facial expressions, posture, silence (how not what we say). It is not about merely ‘being nice ‘.

This EI understanding of empathy definitely describes it as a skill rather than a personal trait. If so, then it can be learned and taught. But many experts seem to believe that psychopaths are born as such, and that there is little we can do but manage them and clear up after their mess.

The Wisdom of Psychopaths

Now, however, the latest research suggest that psychopathic criminals have an empathy switch that can turn on given the right instructions. The difference between them and the rest of us is that our empathy switch has a default setting of ON while theirs is OFF.

My slightly radical view is that the optimal ability is to have the power of self-switching, or turning on or off your empathy as the situation demands.

Should we all be a bit psychopathic at work? This was the provocative title of an article that got me thinking. It was written by BBC Business reporter Tim Bowler in response to the work of Professor Kevin Dutton. Dutton has written a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: Lessons in Life from Saints, Spies and Serial Killers. It ‘s a terrific book. I gave it five stars in an extensive Amazon review.

Those of us who care too much about what others think or are overwhelmed by the moods of others need to develop our own inner psychopath.

We could all benefit from sometimes being more ruthless, fearless, self-confident, focused, mentally tough, charming or charismatic – all of which are traits of a psychopath.

The problem isn ‘t with these traits per se, only when they are turned up to dysfunction levels.

Psychopaths Inc

Successful entrepreneurs in particular share many of the traits of psychopaths. That why some studies claim that bad boys make good entrepreneurs. Risk taking behaviour combined with intelligence is the secret to making millions, according to this view. They have greater self-esteem, more aggression, more flexibility, impulsiveness and independence. Sound familiar?

Psychologists traditionally viewed risk-taking as an abnormal behaviour, associated with disorders such as drug abuse and manic depression. But the Cambridge research said that entrepreneurs showed an adapted type of impulsive risk-taking that allows them to seize opportunities under stress.

This is a challenge to traditional EI models that mark high empathy levels with high success. Maybe this is true to an extent, but it doesn ‘t really account for the Henry Fords or Steve Jobs of this world. It seems that the highest levels of success belong to those who can show flexible empathy, even anti-empathy, as the context demands.

Are you a psychopath? How do you use your skills to advantage in business?

Image credit: cameronstear.

Emotional Intelligence is Sexy!

Recent research has shown that women with higher levels of emotional intelligence tend to enjoy better sex. I’m only bringing this to your attention because I teach Emotional Intelligence. And I must admit I thought it would make a grabbing title!

While you’re here, it seems an opportune moment to remind you of my 2-day EI workshop on 27-28 May, Emotional Intelligence Goes to Work. I’m running it as part of the Queen’s Univerity CPD programme.

“Workshop description: Emotional Intelligence (EI) is more than a sign of the times or the latest management movement – although it is both. Work has changed to become more personal and pressurised than ever before. There is a recognition that raw brain-power is not enough and never has been. Studies prove that the difference between average and outstanding performers at work lies in the ability to blend IQ with EI. Are you aware of your emotional strengths and how you are perceived by others? Can you handle situations of stress and conflict? Do you possess the ‘master aptitudes ‘ of motivation and resilience? Can you empathise with staff or customers? How is your social adeptness in networking scenarios? Is your leadership an inspiration or an impediment? These learnable skills – covered in this workshop – are vital and valued in the new world of work.” Continue reading “Emotional Intelligence is Sexy!”

Star Wars Goes To Work

On December 9th (Belfast) and 10th (Dublin) I spoke at the Christmas Event of the Institute of Internal Auditors (Irish District Society). It was an exciting and challenging experience, since I’ve never done anything quite like it before. But the feedback from both events was excellent, with participants sending me emails of appreciation and request for more information.

Like the title of this blog, the presentation was called Star Wars Goes to Work. My subtitle sheds a bit more light on the content: How to Use Jedi Mind-Tricks in Your Job to Get Your Way, Become Indispensable, and Stay Sane. In it I offered tasters on topic like assertiveness and empathy at work ( how to get your way ), creativity and concentration ( how to become indispensable ), and emotional self-care and control ( how to stay sane ). Continue reading “Star Wars Goes To Work”

Current Events Schedule


This term at QUB, we have three new workshops for the working professional: Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence; Managing Customer Experience and Emotional Intelligence Goes to Work. These workshops are hosted by the School of Education, Short Courses Programmes (CPD).

For eveyone else, there is the School of Education’s Open Learning Programme. This term, we’re running the following events: Continue reading “Current Events Schedule”

The Most Powerful Prefix in the Universe!

Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, “By the power of Meta!”. Or something like that.

‘Meta’ is such a simple prefix, but it did bestow a sort of power on me once I discovered it. It’s from a Greek word meaning ‘after’ or, better, ‘beyond’. It can also mean ‘about’. So metadata is data about data. It provides a top-down, biggest-picture view of any subejct.

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that its helped me grasp so much about my own learning style and way of thinking. I was useless at school, mostly because I couldn’t see any overall point or coherence to anything I was taught. Continue reading “The Most Powerful Prefix in the Universe!”

Les Yeux Sont Le Miroir de L’Dme

I ‘ve raved before about the exciting work of Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University. He ‘s written what I think is the best book on the subject of how the sexes perceive and interact with the world differently. The thrust of it is that men possess system-directed thinking while women enjoy empathy-directed thinking. There are different sorts of test to assess just how much ‘S-type ‘ or ‘E-type ‘ you are.

One interesting test he designed is called Reading the mind in the eyes. It ‘s included in his book but the online version is more fun. It lets you see how well you can judge the feelings and thoughts of people by just looking at a photograph of their eyes. Most people are actually pretty good at this but women are slightly better than men.

Empathy is a great skill to have. It ‘s the cornerstone of all types of ‘social intelligence ‘ and well as altruism. Regardless of how skeptical you might be about Baron-Cohen ‘s central thesis, you have to admit that we leak far more information about our internal emotions form our eyes than you previously might have thought.

As the French never tire of repeating, Les yeux sont le miroir de l’dme .