How Emotional Intelligence Leads to Effective 'Human' Leaders - Ideas for Leaders
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How Emotional Intelligence Leads to Effective ‘Human’ Leaders

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Recognizing the limits of positional power, the best leaders master the four branches of emotional intelligence — perceiving, using, understanding and managing emotions — to inspire and engage their followers.



People who are considered for positions of leadership have proven their intelligence and competence, have acquired the experience required for the job, and often display a sense of authority and strength.

These attributes might have been sufficient at a time when top-down command-and-control leadership (where the job of followers was for the most part to obey the directives of their superiors) worked effectively in a predictable, slow-moving business environment.

Today’s business environment is best described through the military acronym VUCA, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous — a world, in other words, of continuous unpredictability, constant and often sudden change, and complex situations with no easy answers. In such a world, success demands the agility that can only come through an inspired and engaged workforce with the intrinsic motivation and freedom to take initiatives and think on their own.

However, according to professor and leadership expert Kerrie Fleming, neither individual attributes, such as confidence or competence, nor the power that comes with positional authority will be enough to inspire the motivated workforce that a VUCA world demands. The best leaders, Fleming writes in a chapter contribution to the book, Inspiring Leadership: Becoming a Dynamic and Engaging Leader, will attract and engage loyal followers because of their human qualities. This ‘humanizing leadership’ depends on leaders having the emotional intelligence to accompany their rational competencies. Leaders who might be smart or have years of experience can still fail if they are emotionally tone-deaf — unable to process the emotions of others, or even their own emotions.

Fleming identifies the four ‘branches’ of emotional intelligence that leaders in a VUCA world must master:

  1. Perceive emotions. The first step to emotional intelligence is to be aware of one’s emotions and the emotions of others. A leader must recognize, for example, when his or her communication style is unnecessarily hurtful.
  2. Use emotions. The goal is not manipulation, but to take emotions into account. Emotions influence judgement and decisions. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand, for example, not to assign a stretch goal when people are feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Understand emotions. Why do people feel the way they do? Why did an employee overreact to an announcement? Emotionally intelligent leaders do not only perceive and take into account emotions; they also try to understand the root source of those emotions.
  4. Manage emotions. Understanding emotions leads leaders to the final branch of emotional intelligence, which is to find strategies that reflects empathy while at the same time recognizing that emotions cannot run rampant.


No leadership prescription is a panacea (although too many leadership gurus would have you think so). Being a leader today is more complex and nuanced than in a simpler, command-and-control past. Intelligence, competence, experience, knowledge and even appearance and style — the ability to display a ‘sense’ of authority — are all important leadership attributes. The mistake that too many leaders make is to underestimate the importance of emotional intelligence. Without emotional intelligence, leaders can undermine, sometimes unwittingly, the motivation of their followers.

At the same, emotional intelligence does not imply that other facets of leadership are less important. The best approach to managing emotions (including, it should be noted, the emotions of the leaders) is to find strategies that balance the cognitive and the emotional — that recognize the value of rational thought but also the power of emotions to inspire people.

In a VUCA environment that demands agility and innovation, a truly dedicated and intrinsically motivated workforce is vital to the success of the organization. Emotional Intelligence, grounded in both empathy and the rational, ensures that dedication and motivation.



‘Humanizing leadership through emotional intelligence.’ Kerrie Fleming. Chapter in the book, Inspiring Leadership: Becoming a Dynamic and Engaging Leader (January 2017).

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Idea conceived

January 1, 2017

Idea posted

May 2017
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