Leading with the Heart— and a Dash of Emotional Intelligence

by  Meghan Biro  |  Leadership Development

Business leaders today face an often tough climate in which to succeed. The protracted recession has taken its toll. Where one might expect to find employees ‘grateful to have a job’, as one business owner I consulted with lately said (with a straight face, which I found disheartening), instead I talk to employees who are resentful, fearful and unwilling to do more than the minimum to get by. What is wrong?

After speaking with dozens of leaders recently, (many of them entrepreneurs), my latest musing goes something like this: employers face a crisis of personal leadership. Businesses of all sizes are floundering, and responsibility lies in large measure not with the workers who have soldiered through the larger fiscal crisis, but with managers, who in many cases appear to be tone-deaf when it comes to what they are saying to employees. What these managers are missing is emotional intelligence – the ability, as author Daniel Goleman says[1], “to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively.” (timeless thoughts really)

We talk a lot about emotional intelligence and leadership in the TalentCulture Community and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join forces with the community here at LeadChange to continue the conversation and connect with other valued leaders. I’d like to use this forum to explore the relationship between management styles, emotional intelligence, and a business’s financial and spiritual health. It turns out that management style can affect up to a third of a business’s financial performance; in difficult times, who can afford to ignore its impact?

What is emotional intelligence? Goleman defines four ‘capabilities’: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skill. A manager with emotional intelligence may not manifest each of these capabilities at the same time, but should have the ability to switch among them as the needs of the business – and most especially its employees – require. Yet it’s shocking how few managers actually exhibit emotional intelligence. They may be geniuses at solving technical problems, inventors and entrepreneurs, but they lack the basic social skills a leader needs.

Overlay these capabilities with management styles, and you begin to see how a manager with a low level of emotional intelligence can wreak havoc on the bottom line. A ‘coercive’ leader forces everyone to do things his or her way. In a crisis this management style may work, but only for a short time. An ‘authoritative’ leader shares a vision but lets employees find their own ways to make the vision work; this style is broadly useful. A ‘democratic’ leader builds common cause, but giving employees an equal voice in every decision may backfire. A ‘pacesetter’ drives people to perform to his or her high standards – fine if everyone can perform at a high level, a disaster if you have some B or C employees. Finally, a ‘coach’ focuses on personal development, great for employees but no guarantee work will get done.

The exciting magic happens when a manager is self-aware enough to switch between styles, and has acquired the social skills to communicate why he or she is doing so to employees.  My prescription for managers who may not be gifted with the emotional intelligence necessary to personal leadership is:

  • Observe how employees interact with you. Do they tell you what’s going on with their work? What’s their body language? Do they lean away or stand rooted in the doorway of your office? If so, you may need to work on your emotional self- awareness. Try to read the reactions of your employees to things you say and do; a heightened sense of self-awareness will make you more attuned to their needs, and better able to help you lead them. Employees will respond, and the business will benefit.
  • Manage your own behavior first. Many managers try to control others’ behavior by being coercive, manipulative or demanding. Control your impulses, take responsibility for your actions, and be adaptable. If you aren’t a responsible leader, don’t expect employees to shoulder the responsibility for making your business a success.
  • It’s ok to be empathetic. Don’t resent your employees because they don’t seem to see what a great guy/woman you are: pay attention to the emotional tone of the workplace and the effectiveness of the organization will improve.
  • Work to be more social. Don’t sit in your office and expect everyone else to understand what the business needs. Talk about your vision for the company, listen for feedback and be prepared to change. It can be a lot of fun, really.

Let’s return to the relationship between emotional intelligence, personal leadership and fiscal performance. It’s clear that a tone-deaf leader, one who has abdicated personal leadership, will find his or her employees balky and resentful. That attitude will be communicated to customers and the business will suffer. But a manager who accepts the responsibilities of personal leadership – to be aware, emotionally connected, and able to shift management styles to meet the needs of employees and the organization – has a greater chance of building a successful business while creating a meaningful and durable corporate brand. Other companies will want to do business with you, because your vision, awareness, social connection and personal leadership will be appealing and compelling.

In the long run, a great product or service will only be appealing to customers if it’s delivered by a great organization, with a management committed to real personal leadership. Short-term you may be able to get away with a lot, but building value requires a long view – and a commitment to your employees and community members.

Be a personal leader. Let’s all take this challenge. I’m working on this daily. Who’s in?

[1] Leadership That Gets Results, Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000.


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What People Are Saying

Thomas Waterhouse  |  26 Nov 2010  |  Reply

I love that a heart is one of the logos chosen for this article! The heart with which we engage others makes all the difference in the world. I also think the more pure we are in our motive of either self or other interest, then the outcome reveals the inward tendency proportionately. This is why I wonder about coupling emotional intelligence, personal leadership, and fiscal performance. I think this leads us right back to a product orientation (fiscal performance) instead of a process orientation (loving relationships). At this stage of my life I am almost purely “process oriented” believing that if the process is good, then the outcome will be just fine. We can never be totally pure in our motives and yes, we can hold competing motives, but I’m a purest when it comes to matters of the heart. Given that vision, strategy, and (to some degree) tactics are sound and established in the concerns that I work with, I move straight to “process” and stay there. In fact, going back to my psychotherapy and marriage therapy underpinnings, here is an interesting factoid. Teaching couples communication techniques, problem solving strategies, and characteristics of emotional intelligence (products) do not in-and-of themselves drive a positive outcome of treatment. Focusing on the “prevailing sentiment” (the heart) is what makes the difference in a positive outcome of treatment, and this is where healthy spirituality enters the picture. I think that if we begin with the right “heart condition” then corporate training, including education about emotional intelligence makes great sense. Approaching it the other way around, not so much. Of course, this brings us right back to the title of your article, “Leading with the Heart – and a Dash of Emotional Intelligence”. This is a very thought-provoking article, Meghan. Thank you for beginning the discussion, and I hope my distinctions will add positively to the process. And I can’t close a thesis like this without quoting my friend Dr. Jack King who says, “Leadership without love is no leadership at all”.

Meghan M. Biro  |  12 Dec 2010  |  Reply

Thomas – Hello. Thank you very much for the comment! I’m back here at LeadChange after a brief respite. I’m hoping there is always a second (and third) chance to “begin” the discussion thread :-) I appreciate your patience with my response. Yes, the heart is a major theme in my life and practice. You present a very well-balanced leadership philosophy. I applaud you for this tack. My thoughts are also based on the reality that workplace culture inevitably links back to fiscal performance on many levels – particularly regarding for-profit organizations. So often, the leadership outcome is fed inward or becomes purely self-motivating in nature. It’s a never ending cyle that results in a soul-numbing and isolating experience for many leaders. Agree with your sentiment – The heart matters most. Processes and outcomes fall into place accordingly and likely more “naturally” with an emotionally intelligent (aware) leader at the healm. Look forward to sharing more with everyone here.

Susan Mazza  |  26 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Very thought provoking Meghan. I too have observed the “just do the minimum to get by” in people working in the places i go on a day to day basis. If you depend on having a job for your survival you have also been depending on the intelligence and integrity of those who have the “power” to create a sustainable economic future.

It is a crisis of personal leadership. It’s also the design of our system- go to school, get good grades, get a good job and you will be set for life. Our education system has created a culture of people being trained to serve and be dependent on the system. The financial meltdown is the ultimate symptom of a system that is broken because it is built on outdated assumptions.

Managers may be “tone deaf” but I think the reason is systemic in nature. For one thing many managers (and on up) got to their position because of their knowledge or skill in their technical arena. We seem to approach emotional intelligence as though it is transactional in nature, just like the other activities of doing a job. We keep trying to fix the problem through training, but I think we need to affect the basis for which people get placed in management positions to begin with.

Thomas’s comment just reinforces my belief about this: “couples communication techniques, problem solving strategies, and characteristics of emotional intelligence (products) do not in-and-of themselves drive a positive outcome of treatment.” That is essentially what we keep doing – we teach people the skills when the source is the heart. We have essentially dehumanized the business environment – how can we expect to develop emotional intelligence in an environment where a very narrow range of human emotion is acceptable?

Thomas wonders if we can couple emotional intelligence, personal leadership, and fiscal performance? I don’t think it is a question of if, I think our future depends on our ability to find a way.

Meghan M. Biro  |  12 Dec 2010  |  Reply

Susan – Thank you! Fabulous to connect here. Valuable insight from your end. Growth and personal development is very important but we must explore the macro reality of organizational systems. The roles (and subsequent workplace culture) in which people are placed often decide who will succeed or fail. Many leaders fall into the “high potential” category of work-style. The constant pressure to perfom is a reality in every workplace culture – this spans the entrepreneur to Fortune 1000. I’ve discovered through experience and interviews with many leaders that systems (aka “a workplace culture”) do tend to favor more rigid systems of placing talent (people) into various zones/roles and asking them to perform a set list of tasks. I’m a large believer in the importance of hiring for personality and culture fit for this very reason. Success and happiness also invite human disposition into this equation.

Where is the allowance for that gray area we call the unknown as people’s needs shift/they desire true personal growth? I actively promote providing the support tools or simple time necessary to look within and decide the best career progression from a team perspective or even one’s self. Leaders sometimes fall into “career cruise control” and self-discovery inevitably takes a back seat and this can seep into a culture. Agree with your line – fiscal responsibility *is* a real part of equation. For better or for worse. Let’s promote ways to manage this balance for people that do not exclude the heart and the mind altogether. It’s a start…

William Powell  |  26 Nov 2010  |  Reply

Loved that you brought this to the front of the conversation Meghan!

Many businesses and employees alike are in “survival mode”. The unfortunate bit is that survival mode has come to mean everyone for themselves, when pulling together and supporting one another is what brings about the best chances of survival.

If a leader can foster that kind of environment, then the chances of survival go up and the need for protectionist mechanisms go down.

Great insight Meghan!


Meghan M. Biro  |  12 Dec 2010  |  Reply

Thank you William! Nice to see you here. Glad to keep the conversation moving with you.

It’s no longer good enough to be in survival mode. This type of philosophy simply does not work for any sustainable organization. The true ROI of a leader lies in their ability to rise to the ocassion and become fully self-aware first. Align the heart (and mind) and the rest will follow. Let’s keep moving forward…

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