Is Leadership an Emotion?

“Emotions are critical to everything a leader must do: build trust, strengthen relationships, set a vision, focus energy, get people moving, make tradeoffs, make tough decisions, and learn from failure.” – Doug Sundheim

Leadership continues to be a critical factor for the success of individuals, teams, organizations, communities and nations. A glance through the business and national news sources will show the fall or rise of both people and organizations due to poor or exemplary leadership. Given this criticality, it is important to understand what is at the heart of leadership.
There are countless definitions of leadership and while each makes sense in its own context, my curiosity is about whether emotions are at the heart of leadership. Here are a few definitions which stress the importance of emotions in leadership.

“Great Leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others.” – Lance Secretan

“Leadership is leading people with your whole heart.” – Lolly Daskal

“Successful leadership is leading with the heart, not just the head. They possess qualities like empathy, compassion and courage.” – Bill George

“Leadership is the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by a conviction, ignited by a purpose.” – Myles Munroe

Even though the definitions above stress the importance of the heart, empathy, compassion, courage, passion, inspiration, the question is whether emotion drives leadership. So let us understand the critical roles of a leader and how EQ (Emotional Quotient) helps a leader deliver those roles effectively.

Setting the Vision – We all know how important a vision is for an organization and it is equally important for a leader to be able to articulate the vision and inspire the people towards the vision. At the heart of a visionary leader is the power of Self-Actualization, which is about persistently improving the self and pursuing personally relevant and meaningful goals. Before leaders set a vision for the organization, they should be able to have a vision for themselves and for the world and that should be large enough for the entire organization & community. That’s why the Self-Actualization EQ element of the leader is the starting point for being a visionary and the focus is on purposeful & meaningful. This needs to be supported by the EQ element of Reality Testing which is about remaining objective and seeing things as they really are and the leaders needs be aware of what emotions and bias are blocking them from being objective towards developing an appropriate realistic vision. The leader needs to have the EQ element of Social Responsibility which is about acting responsibly, having social consciousness, and showing concern for the greater community. The leader should be able to develop a vision which has a positive impact for others and the society at large.

Inspiring Trust – The leader should be able to inspire the trust of all the stakeholders so that they can become engaged and give their best towards the accomplishment of the vision. To accomplish this, the leader needs a set of emotional competencies including being able to facilitate the positive Emotional Well-Being of all the employees in the organization. Research shows that positive emotions increase trust and negative emotions decrease trust. It is harder to gain emotional trust and if that trust is achieved then everyone will rally with the leader towards the vision. That’s why the leader should ensure that the employees are experiencing a positive Emotional Well-Being or Happiness state. The leader should be able to role model EQ in developing and maintaining mutually satisfying Interpersonal Relationships characterized by trust & compassion and Empathy which is about recognizing, understanding, and appreciating how other people feel.

Navigating VUCA Change – The road towards accomplishing the vision is never straight and the leader should be able to steer the organization through the VUCA business environment represented by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. If the leader has to successfully navigate VUCA Change, then the leader will require the EQ elements of Flexibility which will help the leader to adapt emotions, thoughts and behaviours to unfamiliar, unpredictable, and dynamic circumstances or ideas, Stress Tolerance which will help the leader to cope with stressful or difficult situations and believing that one can manage or influence situations in a positive manner, Optimism which will help the leader to have a positive attitude, remaining hopeful and resilient despite setbacks and Impulse Control which will help the leader to avoid rash behaviours and decision making.

Effective Execution – What is the use of having a great vision, if it is not backed by effective execution? For leaders to be effective in execution, the EQ element of Problem Solving, which will help the leader to find solutions to problems in emotional situations, is required. The Leader will also need the EQ element of Assertiveness to communicate feelings, beliefs and thoughts openly and to operate in a socially acceptable, non-offensive, and non-destructive manner and the EQ element of Independence which is about being self directed and being able to ensure that Decision-making, planning, and daily tasks are completed autonomously.

Being an Authentic Role Model – The leader should be a role model for others in an authentic way. This is a critical requirement and even if the leader excels in the previous four roles and is not a good authentic role model then the leader will not be effective. For the leader to be an authentic role model for others, the EQ element of Self-Regard, which is about respecting oneself, understanding and accepting strengths and weaknesses and having feelings of inner strength and self-confidence, is required. The EQ elements of Emotional Self-Awareness, which is about being able to recognize and understanding one’s own emotions and Emotional Expression which is about being able to openly expressing one’s feelings verbally and non-verbally in an authentic way are critical requirements to be an authentic role model.

While the leader requires other intellectual skills and capacity to fulfil the roles of leadership, if EQ is low or if EQ is not balanced, the intellectual ability will not be of use and the fact is that intellectual ability alone will not be enough to help a leader accomplish the leadership roles. In the words of Daniel Goleman, “No matter what leaders set out to do—whether it is creating a strategy or mobilizing teams to action—their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.”

So we can say that EQ plays a crucial role in helping a leader accomplish critical roles for individual, team and organizational success and we can say that emotions are at the heart of leadership.

The EQ-i 2.O & EQ-360 are versatile emotional intelligence assessments and have been instrumental in helping individuals and organizations predict and improve human performance. The EQ-i 2.O & EQ-360 have powerful applications for leadership development, selecting star performers, succession planning, developing high potentials, Executive Coaching, management development and increasing team effectiveness. Learn more about the upcoming EQ-i 2.O & EQ-360 Certification programs.
Please reach out to me for additional information.


Ragland Gamaliel, Director, Taliber Consulting (ICF ACC l Assoc CIPD l OD Consultant l EQ Coach & Assessor l D&I Facilitator I Agile Coach)