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What’s In the Mind of Good Leaders – Part 1

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man” – Polonius

Do you ask yourself what goes on in the mind of good leaders? I’m in leadership since the 1980’s and still I’m intrigued by the makeup of the leadership mind, the more I read the more I learn.

I thought I’d be an expert by now, so when I took a closer look at how some notable leaders handle themselves, I discovered that a synergy between intellect, motivation, creativity, and social skills are present in a high degree among many at the top.

One leader I’m impressed with is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, his focus on relationships with his people and his insight into the wants and needs of Amazon’s customers. What impresses me most is Bezos’ ability to connect with people. I began taking a closer look at other top leaders and found similar characteristics.

While studying the importance of understanding emotional intelligence in leadership I saw how it all makes sense.

What Is Emotional Intelligence? If you’re unfamiliar with the subject of emotional intelligence, here’s a concise definition: “Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.” (1)

How Great Leaders Motivate Us Psychologist Daniel Goleman says, “Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through the emotions.”

In his book titled “Emotional Intelligence” Goleman lists some main components the good leaders excel in, they are:

• Self-Awareness: observing yourself and recognizing your feelings; building a vocabulary for feelings; knowing the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and reactions.

• Personal Decision-Making: examining your actions and knowing their consequences; knowing if thought or feeling is ruling a decision; applying these insights to issues such as sex and drugs.

• Managing Feelings: monitoring “self-talk” to catch negative messages such as internal put-downs; realizing what is behind a feeling (e.g., the hurt that underlies anger); finding ways to handle fears and anxieties, anger, and sadness.

• Handling Stress: learning the value of exercise, guided imagery, relaxation methods.

• Empathy: understanding others’ feelings and concerns and taking their perspective; appreciating the differences in how people feel about things.

• Communications: talking about feelings effectively: becoming a good listener and question-asker; distinguishing between what someone does or says and your own reactions or judgments about it; sending “I” messages instead of blame.

• Self-Disclosure: valuing openness and building trust in a relationship; knowing when it’s safe to risk talking about your private feelings.

• Insight: identifying patterns in your emotional life and reactions; recognizing similar patterns in others.

• Self-Acceptance: feeling pride and seeing yourself in a positive light; recognizing your strengths and weaknesses; being able to laugh at yourself.

• Personal Responsibility: taking responsibility; recognizing the consequences of your decisions and actions, accepting your feelings and moods, following through on commitments (e.g., to studying).

• Assertiveness: stating your concerns and feelings without anger or passivity.

• Group Dynamics: cooperation; knowing when and how to lead, when to follow. (3)

Understanding the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership is vital to our success. In the next article we’ll look at some ways we can improve on these components.


(1) Psychology Today – Emotional Intelligence (2) Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (3) Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition by Daniel Goleman (Appendix E The Self Science Curriculum)

*** This article was authored by John Picarello, Chief Leadership Officer at Lions Pride Leadership Co.***

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