The literature on leadership has grown with regard to the importance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence, and for good reason. When leaders are impulsive or controlled by their emotions they do not make good decisions. This is especially relevant with respect to crisis management.
The importance of self-awareness to leadership
Bradberry & Greaves (2012) note in their book Leadership 2.0 which chronicles the results of their intensive studies of leadership that the traits of leadership fall into two groups, core leadership skills and adaptive leadership skills. While core leadership skills are necessary to achieve a leadership position, adaptive leadership skills are those that set apart great leaders (Bradberry & Greaves). A great many of the adaptive leadership skills built on self-awareness and management of emotions and personal desires (Bradberry & Greaves, 2012). One of the reasons why this is so important it the moral and motivational example that is set by the leader. For example, research by Alshammari, Almutairi, and Thuwaini (2015) demonstrated that a fair and ethical leader motivates productive and efficient employees. Leadership such as this can be seen as rooted in the same traits, such as integrity, social awareness and fairness which were identified by Bradberry and Greaves as contributing to adaptive leadership.
Emotional intelligence and risk taking
Leaders must have high level of emotional intelligence in order to see past personal issues to the organizational perspective which requires the leadership and attention. Further, managing inevitable frustrations, anger and other negative emotions is necessary so that power is not used to serve personal goals that do little for the firm.
George (2000) wrote an early article on the implications of emotional intelligence for leadership, and in particular the need for a high level of emotional intelligence in order to practice effective leadership. George defines four aspects, that being the appraisal and expression, knowledge of emotions, the interactions between emotions and cognition (or self-talk) and most importantly how these lead to the management of emotions (George, 2000). Emotional intelligence enhances leadership by supporting the appreciation and recognition of others, generation of enthusiasm, flexibility and contribution to organizational identity (George, 2000). Mastery of emotions for a leader has two aspects, the ability to manage one’s own emotions but also the ability to motivate and manipulate the emotions of others including employees, customers, contractors and suppliers (George, 2000). Bradberry and Greaves (2009) reveal that emotional intelligence leads to taking the right risks. This is because those leaders with emotional intelligence can cope with the inevitable failure on their way to successfully meeting a goal, and also that their risk taking will be based on organizational, rather than personal, concerns.
Li, Gupta, Loon and Casimir, (2016) investigated the influence of the emotional intelligence of leaders and their preference in terms of leadership style. This research was conducted using a role playing scenario and Likert based survey. Out of four possible combinations of pressure and support (in terms of timing and delay) the researchers found that leaders with the highest scores for emotional intelligence also tended to choose first providing support, but following immediately with pressure (Li et al., 2016). While further studies are needed to better understand the profile of the emotionally intelligent leader, studies such as this have established that emotional intelligence is associated with timely action which serves the organizational goals, and that emotional intelligence manifests in decision making behavior (Li et al., 2016) .
Transformational leadership as risk taking with emotional intelligence
When considering rapid change in the business environment as well as at the level of households globally, it is easy to understand why transformational leadership is a popular approach and leadership style. Transformational leadership is suitable for times of great change, and it involves leveraging the leadership of follower and, as Bass describes in his 1990 seminal article, moving “from transactional to transformational leadership” requires “learning to share the vision” (Bass, 1990, 19). Transformational leadership aligns with Bradberry and Greaves concept of adaptive leadership, where relationship awareness and developing others is key. Authentic leadership in the transformational style requires a great deal of charisma and moral character, and for this to be sufficiently developed there needs to be considerable self-awareness and emotional intelligence influencing how power is wielded (Bradberry & Greaves, 2012).
Crisis management, emotions, risks and leadership
Stein (2013) provides an interesting twist on the traditional opinion regarding narcissism in leadership, providing a priority with regard to the dangers of leaders managing crises in terms of emotional management. Academic literature acknowledges the presence of narcissism due to the self-selection of leaders (Stein, 2013). Many theorists and analysts take the position that narcissism as a leadership trait, despite its lack of self-awareness, can be constructive because of the confidence it promotes (Stein, 2013). Others take the position that because narcissists have a significant failure to manage their emotions they can be reactive and take risks that have significant and negative impacts on others (Stein, 2013). Stein takes the point of view that narcissists are mostly constructive leaders while things are going well, but that crisis triggers the more reactive leadership that contributes to unfavorable outcomes. The large ego present in narcissism can create a situation where leaders make decisions that are favorable for themselves, without consideration for the impacts on the organization or the stakeholders.
A lack of self-awareness and emotional intelligence can lead to the derailment of leaders, resulting in poor decision making that can have a significant negative impact on a company or even a country. Van Velsor & Leslie (1995) describe studies beginning in the 1970s on what they termed executive derailment and its impacts. Executive derailment tends to occur when executives lose focus, sometimes becoming paranoid, obsessive about a detail, or even hiding the facts (Van Velsor & Leslie, 1995). It is a phenomenon that has been occurring across time as well as culture and geography, and examples of this can be found all over the world (Van Velsor & Leslie, 1995). Executive derailment is not just a problem for the leader and their organization, it can bring down communities and even nations.
The issue of self-awareness and risk taking as aspects of emotional intelligence in leadership are ones that loom large over current events. Two leaders in particular stand out in terms of criticism regarding narcissism and the potential to cause global havoc with their decisions and sometimes tantrums. These two leaders are Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. Time magazine reports that Trump’s leadership lacks integrity, with narcissistic concerns about the size of the inauguration crowds rather than a focus on issues of fundamental importance such as upholding the Constitution (Jordan, 2017). Analysts feel that tensions are worsening, and that crisis is already occurring if not imminent (Robinson, 2017). This does not bode well for leadership of the American people, given Stein’s theory.
Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has been described as unstable and narcissistic, and this is seen as a major contributor to the poor standard of living suffered by the North Korean people. In fact, Bradberry (2017) used the leadership of Jong Un to illustrate how weak leaders with poor emotional intelligence fail to meet their goals by creating a demoralizing and demotivational environment. Certainly, given the stark reality of the personality types of the two leaders, the lack of emotional intelligence and their propensity for taking risks that have personal, rather than national gains, one hopes that in their interactions they do not incite one another to make a poor decision on behalf of their people (Hall & Gray, 2016).
Emotional intelligence and self-awareness make for great leadership by leaders who use self-management to ensure that their personal opinions and needs are secondary to that of the organization. Leaders who have little emotional intelligence and self-awareness may make decisions which take unnecessary and unacceptable risks because they feel personally offended or as a show of power. This is a grave concern when such leaders are responsible for governance and foreign relations which could lead to conflict, war and other negative outcomes.
- Alshammari, A., Almutairi, N. N., & Thuwaini, S. F. (2015). Ethical leadership: The effect on employees. International Journal of Business and Management, 10(3), 108. Retrieved from: http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijbm/article/download/43586/24869
- Bass, B. M. (1990). From transactional to transformational leadership: Learning to share the vision. Organizational dynamics, 18(3), 19-31. Retrieved from: http://discoverthought.com/
- Bradberry., T. (2017). 5 Important Leadership Lessons From Kim Jong Un. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-travis-bradberry/5-important-leadership-le_b_8964828.html
- Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart.
- Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2012). Leadership 2.0. TalentSmart.
- George, J. M. (2000). Emotions and leadership: The role of emotional intelligence. Human relations, 53(8), 1027-1055. Retrieved from: http://www.academia.edu
- Hall., K. & Gray, N. (2016). When Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un Talk. The Hill. Retrieved from: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-budget/312301-when-donald-trump-and-kim-jong-un-talk
- Jordan, E. (2017). A White House Devoid of Integrity. Time Magazine. Retrieved from: http://time.com/4654658/trump-white-house-no-integrity/
- Li, Z., Gupta, B., Loon, M., & Casimir, G. (2016). Combinative aspects of leadership style and emotional intelligence. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 37(1), 107-125. Retrieved from: http://eprints.worc.ac.uk/
- Robinson, E. (2017). How could things get worse for Trump? The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-many-more-crises-can-the-trump-white-house-withstand/2017/02/16/d7c15f26-f486-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.a7784935b178
- Stein, M. (2013). When does narcissistic leadership become problematic? Dick Fuld at Lehman Brothers. Journal of Management Inquiry, 22(3), 282-293. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1056492613478664
- Van Velsor, E., & Leslie, J. B. (1995). Why executives derail: Perspectives across time and cultures. The Academy of Management Executive, 9(4), 62-72.