Emotionally Intelligent Leadership
In recent years, Beta Theta Pi has invested its time and financial resources into leadership development. A search for the word leadership on Amazon.com returns more than 178,000 results. Amazingly, a similar search on Google yields 269 million hits! Consider that you can read more than 2,000 published definitions of leadership. Yet, although the topic of leadership is far-reaching, surprisingly few books focus on leadership as it applies to college students.
Part of the motivation behind Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for College Students includes the belief that Betas and all undergraduates have a terrific “learning lab” at their disposal. The campus environment provides a rich and plentiful array of opportunities for students to practice leadership skills for four (or maybe five) years. Campus-based organizations, residence halls, teams and related opportunities provide students with many different ways to get involved. Students can experiment with different approaches to leadership — honing the philosophy and style that best suits them.
However, as the General Fraternity’s leadership has realized, unless there are opportunities for students to intentionally reflect upon successes and failures, much of the learning opportunities may fall to the wayside. In addition, without consistent guidance from advisors or local mentors, undergraduate leaders may make the same mistakes over and over. Our exploration of emotionally intelligent leadership (EIL) provides undergraduates with the opportunity to pause and reflect on how they can better approach any leadership role, positional or non-positional.
About Emotionally Intelligent Leadership
Emotionally intelligent leadership synthesizes two major bodies of research and theory: emotional intelligence and leadership.
In 1990, Peter Salovey and John Mayer published a scholarly paper in which they coined the term emotional intelligence. They defined emotional intelligence as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
In 1995, the term was made popular by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence. In his follow-up book, Goleman (1998) defined emotional intelligence as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”
Foremost in this model of emotionally intelligent leadership, the leader must be conscious of three fundamental facets that contribute to the leadership dynamic: consciousness of context, self and others.
Here is an example to clarify what is meant by consciousness of self, others and context. Let’s examine President John F. Kennedy as an exemplar of this model. Kennedy (self) was elected at a time (context) when his personal leadership attributes and his message aligned with that being sought by the people of the United States (others). Would President Kennedy be elected today? No one knows. Based on our reading of theory and research on leadership, one thing is certain — were he to seek election today, Kennedy would need to align his message with issues that mesh with our current reality and context.
Effective leaders in any organization or sector of society ensure that their message resonates with the interests and desires of others (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002). Effective or ineffective leadership is therefore a relationship between these three facets: consciousness of context, consciousness of self and consciousness of others. Leaders’ ability to monitor all three intentionally will aid in their ability to lead effectively. After all, leaders must be aware of their capacities, the needs of those who follow them and the environmental factors that come into play as well.
Along with the general framework mentioned above, EIL consists of 21 capacities to which a leader should pay attention. In the American Heritage Dictionary, capacity is defined as “ability to perform or produce; capability.” This word was chosen because everyone has the capacity to develop the ability to lead others effectively. The question comes down to choice — do we want to?
In essence, effective leadership is like being on a golf course and using the right golf clubs well in the right situation. The best players have mastered this technique. They are aware of how the weather, the course and the competition contribute to the equation. The best players have the skills to choose intentionally and play effectively with different clubs, given new or changing circumstances.
Developing Your EIL
If you are interested in developing your EIL, then you need a healthy balance of these capacities. There is no fixed formula for which capacities you must demonstrate; that would minimize the complexities and realities of leadership and of us as human beings.
It is not effective or advisable to demonstrate any one of these capacities to excess. For instance, leaders can take teamwork to an extreme and become bogged down when trying to progress and move forward. On the other hand, leaders may completely negate the importance of teamwork and alienate themselves from the group. In addition, leaders with low capacity for empathy may have a difficult time convincing others to believe that they have others’ best interests at heart.
The bottom line is that each capacity requires balance. The trick is that the right level of being in balance is dynamic — it’s constantly shifting. In other words, an appropriate capacity for developing relationships in one context may be inadequate in others, based on the leader, the followers and the context. The best leaders realize this, and they intentionally adjust their approaches or levels based on the needs of others and the context.
Leadership development is a long-term endeavor — a journey that all of us must consistently work on if we want to develop and grow. And as with any knowledge, skill or ability, you need to reflect on your successes and failures, observe others whom you admire and respect, and engage in trusting relationships with people who will provide you with open and honest feedback. Finally, and perhaps most important, to demonstrate emotionally intelligent leadership you must transfer this knowledge into action.
— S. Allen and M. Shankman
Scott J. Allen, Ph.D., Minnesota ’95 and Marcy Levy Shankman are co-authors of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for College Students. Allen is the founder of The Center for Leader Development.