What Makes a Leader?

What Makes a Leader?

Every businessperson has heard the tale of a brilliant, accomplished executive who was elevated to a leadership position only to fail in it. Also, they are aware of a case in which a person with respectable but not outstanding technical and intellectual aptitude was given a similar opportunity and went on to achieve great success.


Such examples lend credence to the widely held view that it takes more art than science to identify those who have the “right stuff” to be leaders. Although great leaders come in a variety of personalities, some are quiet and analytical while others shout their ideologies from the rooftops. Furthermore, it’s crucial to note that certain circumstances demand for various leadership styles. While many turnarounds call for a more muscular authority, the majority of mergers require a sensitive negotiator at the lead.

But, I have discovered that the most successful leaders have a vital trait: they all possess a high level of what is now called emotional intelligence. Not that intelligence and technical proficiency are unimportant. They are important, but mostly as “threshold capabilities,” which are the minimal standards for executive jobs. But it is abundantly obvious from my research and other recent studies that emotional intelligence is a prerequisite for leadership. Without it, even with the best education, analytical mind, and never-ending supply of brilliant ideas, a person won’t create a great leader.

The Five Components of Emotional Intelligence at Work

My coworkers and I have been concentrating on how emotional intelligence functions at work over the past year. We have looked at the connection between effective performance and emotional intelligence, particularly in leaders. Also, we have seen examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace. For instance, how can you determine if someone has high emotional intelligence and how can you spot it in yourself? We’ll examine these issues in more detail in the pages that follow, focusing on each aspect of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill—in turn.

Evaluating Emotional Intelligence

To help them identify, develop, and promote potential stars in the leadership firmament, the majority of large companies today have hired trained psychologists to create what are known as “competency models.” Such models have also been created by psychologists for employment at lesser levels. And in recent years, I have examined competency models from 188 organizations, the majority of which were significant global players like Credit Suisse, British Airways, and Lucent Technologies.

My goal in carrying out this analysis was to ascertain which human qualities and to what extent they contributed to great performance inside these businesses. I divided skills into three categories: those that are strictly technical, like accounting and business planning; those that are cognitive, like analytical thinking; and those that demonstrate emotional intelligence, such as the capacity for collaboration and the capacity to lead change.

Some of the competency models were developed after senior managers at the companies were asked to name the traits that distinguished the best leaders within the company. The psychologists employed measurable standards to distinguish between the top performers at senior levels within their organizations and the average ones to develop alternative models. Then, these people had in-depth testing and interviews, and their abilities were compared. Lists of ingredients for extremely effective leaders were produced as a result of this approach. The lists were seven to fifteen things long and contained elements like initiative and strategic vision.

My analysis of all of this data produced surprising findings. Unquestionably, intelligence contributed to exceptional performance. Particularly crucial were cognitive abilities like long-term planning and big-picture thinking. Yet, when I compared the importance of technical expertise, IQ, and emotional intelligence as factors in superior performance, emotional intelligence turned out to be twice as crucial as the other two for employment at all levels.

Furthermore, my investigation revealed that, at the highest levels of the organization, when distinctions in technical capabilities are of minimal significance, emotional intelligence played an increasingly significant impact. In other words, the more emotional intelligence skills that were demonstrated as the basis for a person’s efficiency, the higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer. About 90% of the profile differences between star performers and mediocre ones in senior leadership roles might be attributed to emotional intelligence rather than cognitive skills.

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