The Emotionally Intelligent Leader of the 21st Century – by Dr. Mark Ellis

10 05 2010

Dr. Daniel Goleman of Harvard University raised considerable interest in the area of emotional intelligence when he suggested that emotionally intelligent leaders were more effective and successful in various organizations as opposed to leaders who had a relatively high IQ. Despite various opposing views, Goleman’s research has been established as highly reputable and credible among various researchers of leadership studies. As such, the author suggests that there is a relatively strong relation between transformational leadership and emotional intelligence. Further, the author also suggests that emotional intelligence can be developed over time as the leader matures and develops. It is not suggested that emotional intelligence replaces IQ, but rather, is a separate construct within the leader which helps the leader to effectively lead.

Emotional Intelligence

Salovey and Mayer defined emotional intelligence as a form of social intelligence (1990). This form of a social intelligence mirrors the observations of Thorndike (1920) who suggested that such social intelligence involves the ability to monitor one’s own feelings and emotions and to discriminate among them. Such ability to monitor, discriminate, and govern such emotions was suggested to guide one’s thinking and actions of an individual (Thorndike & Stein, 1937). Moreover, it has been suggested that emotional intelligence is directly related to a leader’s ability to manage their emotions as well as effectively respond to the emotions of others amid pressures and complexities (Goleman, 1998; Caruso & Salovey, 2004).

Further, as the research indicates, a successful leader may be highly developed in emotional intelligence, causing effective leadership skills to be demonstrated in high- performance, complex, or successful organizations (Goleman, 1998; MacGillivray, 2006). Moreover, the literature suggests that a leader who is developed in emotional intelligence is more apt to be able to successfully lead in groups, communities, and large modern organizations than a leader who is identified as having a high I.Q. (Goleman, 1995; 1998; 2001; Cann, 2004; Mayer, DiPaolo & Salovey, 1990; Weisinger, 1998). As such, emotional intelligence is a set of abilities (Côté & Miners, 2006). These abilities include the perception of emotions in the self and in others, the use emotions to facilitate performance, understanding emotions and emotional knowledge, and the regulation of emotions in the self and in others (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). This highly researched concept of emotional intelligence which has developed substantially since the end of the 20th century has had an unusually important impact on managerial practice.

The concept of emotional intelligence began in the intelligence testing movement as EL Thorndike (1920), professor of educational psychology at alumni or university teachers College coined a term called social intelligence (Harrison, 2006). Thorndike (1920) originally distinguished social intelligence from other forms of intelligence and defined it as the ability to understand and inter-act wisely and human relations (p.231). Initially, Thorndike (1920) formulated early theories by defining social intelligence is the ability to perceive one’s own and others’ internal states, motives, and behaviors, and to act toward them optimally on the basis of that information (p. 37). Further, Thorndike and Stein were the early pioneers to develop an early method to measure social intelligence (1937).

This theory, perception, and characteristic of social intelligence, was later identified as emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman (1995) professor of psychology at Harvard University. In his empirical research, Goleman (1995) builds on the previous research conducted by Thorndike (1920). In doing so, Goleman (1995) affirms and validates Thorndike’s findings suggesting that emotional intelligence is a viable model of an intelligence construct (1995; 1998). Thorndike’s early theories reflect that of Goleman’s research as Thorndike’s social intelligence consisted of a keen understanding and mastery of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. As Goleman suggests (1995; 1998; 2001) these factors are strong components and characteristics of emotional intelligence. In Goleman’s research, he suggested that there are four main components of emotional intelligence (1995). These four main components consisted of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and empathy.

According to Goleman (1995, 1998) emotional intelligence may be more important than a leader’s IQ. A leader who is highly developed an emotional intelligence possesses the skills necessary to be able to manage their own emotions. Further, a leader who is developed in emotional intelligence has the ability to perceive the emotional state of others and effectively engage (Goleman, 1998; Caudron, 1999). Goleman describes several factors that are evident in emotional intelligence such as self-awareness, self- management, motivation, empathy, and social skills. A leader who is considered to be well-developed in emotional intelligence has the ability to accurately perform self- assessments, have a deep personal understanding of the inner self and personal confidence (Goleman, 1995).

A leader who is developed in emotional intelligence has the innate ability to avoid or subdue disruptive emotions or impulses while maintaining a standard of personal integrity (Goleman, 1995). The third factor identified as motivation is the innate ability to have an inner drive to achieve a standard of excellence while maintaining an optimistic attitude while persisting in striving for excellence and reaching goals despite the pressures of complexity and challenges (Goleman, 1998). Moreover, Goleman discusses empathy as the ability to understand the personal needs of others, while perceiving the moods, emotions, feelings while being aware of their personal needs (1995). Further, Goleman discusses the importance of social skill required which may include the ability to effectively communicate collaborate influence and inspire others through effective and positive influence (Goleman, 1995; 1998).

Emotional Intelligence as an Intelligence Construct

The literature indicates that over the last two decades there has been debate as to the validity of emotional intelligence being categorized as an intelligence construct (Ashkanasy & Daus, 2005; Ciarrochi, Chan & Caputi, 2000; Hemmati, Mills & Kroner, 2004; Locke, 2005; Van Rooy & Viswesvaran, 2004;Van Rooy, Viswesvaran & Pluta, 2005). As Smollan (2006) notes, the relationship between emotion and cognition has been debated for centuries by philosophers, psychologists and organizational theorists, forming different camps and suggesting a number of different conclusions. Some researchers have suggested that emotion is the opposite of reason (Weber, 1946), while others argue that emotion is deeply interwoven with reason (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1995; Smollan, 2006). Yet others present the idea that emotion can occur independently of reason (Zajonc, 1980; Izard, 1992).

Barbuto and Burbach (2006) note that some researchers have identified emotional intelligence as an aptitude (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). Further, they acknowledge that most scholars have conceptualized emotional intelligence is a mix of skills and traits Goleman, 1995; Petrides, 2004; Schutte et al., 1998). Further, Barbuto and Burbach (2006) discuss emotional intelligence as containing five underlying factors which are empathetic response, mood regulation, interpersonal skill, internal motivation, and self- awareness Carson, Carson, and Birkenmeier (2000). Empathetic response is described as the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people, mood regulation is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and interpersonal skill is the proficiency in managing and building networks while internal motivation is a passion for work for reasons that go beyond money and status that involves the ability to delay gratification and pursuit of a goal and finally self-awareness is the person’s ability to recognize and understand his or her own moods, emotions, and drives and their effects on others (Barbuto & Burbach, 2006, p. 53).

Researchers have suggested that such debate may legitimize emotional intelligence theory all the more as empirical evidence reveals emotional intelligence has a legitimate model (Côté & Miners, 2006). As the literature suggests, there has been extensive empirical research conducted in order to find out whether or not emotional intelligence should even be conceptualized as a type of intelligence (Roberts, Zeidner & Matthews, 2001; Becker, 2003; Brody, 2004).

Over the last two decades of research, empirical evidence, and peer review; it appears that emotional intelligence has been established as a viable construct of intelligence (Goleman, 1998; Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, & Sitarenios, 2003; Caruso & Salovey, 2004; Bar-On, 2001; Tett, Fox & Wang, 2005). Research conducted by Mayor and Salovey (1997) formulated a model of emotional intelligence which Côté and Miners (2006) identifies as a construct which focuses strictly on abilities therefore satisfying the conceptual criterion of an intelligence (p.3). They base their position of emotional intelligence as being a form of intelligence based on research conducted by Schmidt and Hunter (2000) which suggested that intelligence is the ability to grasp and reason correctly with abstractions and solve problems (p. 3).

Further, Côté and Miners (2006) suggest that beyond the ability to grasp and reason correctly with abstractions, emotional intelligence can be conceptualized as the ability to grasp and reason correctly with emotional abstractions and solve emotional problems. Further, they also suggest that the construct of emotional intelligence according to research conducted by Mayer, Caruso, and Salovey (2000) is a viable construct as it meets the conceptual, correlational, and developmental criteria of an intelligence (Côté & Miners, 2006, p.4). They further note that in order to meet the conceptual criterion of an intelligence, a construct must reflect abilities rather than tendencies to act in certain ways; this criterion is based on important distinction between abilities and personality traits (Carroll,1993).

Researchers suggest that in order for emotional intelligence to be classified as an intelligence it must meet the correlational criterion of an intelligence, be different from other intelligence is, if the construct must correlate with cognitive and verbal intelligence (Côté & Miners, 2006; Carroll, 1993; Neisser et al., 1996) as such, research conducted by Ciarrochi, Chan, and Caputi, (2000) and Schulte, Ree, and Carretta, (2004) found that as much as 20% of emotional intelligence overlaps with other intelligences and therefore, over 80% of emotional intelligence is separate from other intelligences as suggested by Côté and Miners (2006). Further, as the literature suggests, these findings reveal that emotional intelligence meets the correlational criterion of an intelligence, therefore establishing emotional intelligence as a valid conceptual model of intelligence which may be operationalized within the inner construct of a transformational leader (Barbuto & Burbach, 2006).


Over the years there have been several instruments constructed to measure emotional intelligence. One of the earliest measurement tools was developed in 1997 entitled the emotional quotient inventory, or better known as the EQI (Bar-On, 1977). The EQ line is a self-administered test which is comprised of 133 questions also consisting of 15 subscales and to validity subscales which are used to evaluating empathy, self-awareness, self-control, assertiveness, independence, and happiness.

This instrument was used in earlier years to predict potential top-performing managers in organizations by assessing in the area of psychological health rather than measuring the individuals ability (Bar-On, 1977; Mayer, Caruso & Salovey, 1999; Schutte & Malouff, 1999). As Mayer, Caruso & Salovey (1999) posit, the measurements assessed of emotional intelligence are more closely related to ego strength and social competence rather than ability intellectual skills or other non-emotional traits. Further, Mayer, Caruso & Salovey (2001) as influenced by the 1997 model designed a performance-based measure which assesses and individuals ability to perceive, understand, and manage emotions which brought about the creation of the multifactor of emotional intelligence scale. This measurement instrument measures 12 tasks including two tasks to measure of simulating emotions, two tasks to measure of understanding emotion, two tasks to measure and managing feelings of self and for tasks which measure perceiving emotions (Mayer, Caruso & Salovey, 2001).

Boyatis and Goleman (1999) later developed an instrument called the emotional competency inventory. This instrument was developed as a 360° instrument based on 12 responses. This instrument provided extensive feedback assessing the individual strengths and weaknesses giving the individual the necessary data needed to bring about improvement. Moreover, Wong and Law (2002) further developed the ability to measure emotional intelligence by developing the TI scale. The TI scale is a 16 item measurement instrument which measures for emotional intelligence factors of self-promotion appraisal, others emotional appraisal use of a motion in the regulation of emotion (Wong & Law, 2002).

Current studies are underway in order to bring about further understanding in regard to emotional intelligence as it relates to effective leadership. Further, as Gardner (1983) and Goleman (1995), note, emotions govern decision-making more so than logical rationality (Goleman, 1998). It has been strongly suggested that emotional intelligence has a strong influence on effective leadership transcending various organizations.

Linking Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership behaviors have been established as the characteristic of a change agent who has undergone the task of leading organizational change. Moreover, research conducted by Barbuto and Burbach, (2006) revealed that there is a definite relationship between emotional intelligence and the transformational leader. The findings of their study was consistent with past studies which show the positive significant relationships between emotional intelligence and the transformational leadership model as purported by previous researchers (Barling et al., 2000; Gardner & Stough, 2002). In fact, Barbuto and Burbach (2006) found that a leader’s interpersonal skills were positively related to individualized consideration, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence (p. 59). Their findings were consistent with the research on the importance of interpersonal skills and social astuteness and positive leadership practices, revealing that leaders to develop strong interpersonal skills have a greater likelihood of exhibiting transformational leadership behaviors (Barling et al., 2000; Forgas & George, 2001; Redmond et al., 1993).

While a transformational leader may possess a high IQ, (Goleman, 1995; 1998) it may be suggested that that having a high IQ is not enough to be an effective leader. An effective leader who is serving as a change agent must be able to connect effectively with organizational constituency gaining their support, compliance and motivation to become involved in the change process. As Piderit (2000) suggests, leaders expect organizational members to comply with the change initiative and enthusiastically support the organizational change with appropriate action (Smollan, 2006). Further, Duck (1993) purports that organizations that introduce change need to gain the hearts and minds of their members if the change is to be successful.

According to Smollan (2006), a number of researchers involved in organizational behavior have criticized the neglect of emotion, both by managers and fellow researchers (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1995; Fisher & Ashkanasy, 2000). Such neglect has spawned criticism for excluding the affective domain and focusing on cognitive and behavioral aspects (Mossholder et al., 2000). Since change is often an affective event (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996; Basch & Fisher, 2000) analyzing its emotional impacts is critical (Smollan, 2006). It is suggested that these observations further validate Goleman’s assertion (1998) that emotional intelligence is directly linked to effective leadership characteristics, most notably the characteristics that are evident in the behaviors of the transformational leader.

Barbuto and Burbach (2006) studied and tested the relationships between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. They found several correlations that reinforce the role of emotional intelligence in the effective model of transformational leadership. According to their findings, emotional intelligence shared positive relationships with each self-reported subscale of transformational leadership. Their findings were consistent with past studies that showed positive significant relationships between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership (Barling et al., 2000; Gardner & Stough, 2002). They further note that a vital aspect of effective leadership lies in the leader’s ability to gain the emotional commitment of his or her followers (Barbudo & Burbach, 2006). As their study revealed, emotional intelligence, which encompasses the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions, is hypothesized to be related to transformational leadership (p.1).

While little research directly examines the relationship between emotional intelligence and leadership, Barbuto and Burbach (2006) as well as Hartsfield (2003) suggest that the little that has been done has demonstrated that produced evidence that there is a link between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. Critics of emotional intelligence have suggested that there has been too much shared variance with traditional measures of personality. However, as Barbuto and Burbach (2006) purport, subsequent research has indicated that this shared variance is likely due to broad definitions of emotional intelligence that encompass motivation, assertiveness, empathy as well as the use of self-report measures (Hartsfield, 2003). Nevertheless, Abraham (2000), Cooper and Sawaf (1996), Goleman (1998), Ryback (1998), and Weisinger (1998) all suggest that success in today’s ever-changing environment demands a high level of emotional intelligence which is evident in the characteristics and behaviors of the transformational leader.

Sosik and Megerian (1999) examined the self-awareness component of emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. The findings revealed in their empirical study supported the hypothesis that emotional intelligence is one of the foundational components of effective transformational leadership evident in the behaviors of transformational leaders who were serving as change agents. In the study, the leaders reported their assessment of their emotional intelligence and leadership behavior while their subordinates who observed the leadership characteristics of their supervisors reported from their perspective their supervisors transformational leadership behavior and performance outcomes (p. 368-369).

The empirical evidence revealed that there was a high level of emotional intelligence operation in the transformational leader who was considered effective and brought about a high level of performance in the company. Further, it was found that supervisors who were more transactional, demonstrating less transformational leadership behaviors, scored lower, showing little evidence of emotional intelligence. The study revealed that effective leadership which was transformational while bringing about a high level of performance outcomes in the organization, also had a high-level of emotional intelligence.

In research conducted by Barbuto and Burbach, (2006), the authors surveyed eight elected public officials in the United States. Together, they compose 388 leader — member dyads. The purpose of the study was to explore the relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. Again, the results of the study were that there was a high level of emotional intelligence at work with him the public officials who functioned as transformational leaders (pp. 57-61). The results reflected that emotional intelligence of transformational leaders was highly evident and the results also supported the hypothesis that emotional intelligence is linked to the behaviors, nature, and character that is prevalent in the transformational leader.

As the literature suggests, conclusions drawn from extensive research over the last two decades, there is a definite link between emotional intelligence and the transformational leader. Moreover, the various research findings have been conducted in multiple environments consisting of a broad range of samples. As such, the author posits that one of the bilateral dimensions of transformational leadership identified as emotional intelligence is seen to be at work in the transformational leader. The hypotheses presented by the author may be supported by credible, peer-reviewed empirical studies and meta- analytical research.


As the literature suggests, there is strong empirical evidence linking emotional intelligence to transformational leadership. Effectively managing one’s emotions in a volatile, dynamic or complex environment may be considered as crucial for an effective leader (Goleman, 1998). It is a very strong characteristic of a transformational leader to show individualized attention, being sensitive to follow her needs and effectively relating to teams, groups, or organization wide constituency. This leadership style goes beyond the traditional transactional leadership behaviors which primarily deals and functions in the bargain for exchange. In assessing the emotional intelligence literature there may be a correlation between transformational leadership and individualized attention, intellectual stimulation, idealized influence and inspirational motivation. The author suggests that the literature does reveal that there is a relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership.




One response

13 12 2012
The meeting of heart and head: the imperative of emotional intelligence in 21st century leaders | HGI Knowledge Centre

[…] emotional processes must be identified and understood as “change is often an affective event” (Ellis, 2010). The affective forces at play under the surface are only harnessed if a leader has self-awareness […]

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