What Makes a Leader? Essay Sample

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Daniel Goleman’s article “What Makes a Leader?” was a very interesting analysis of the traits that make a leader. The article provides an examination of the relationship between emotional intelligence and the effective performance of leaders in organizations. His article looks at each component that makes up emotional intelligence and describes how to recognize these characteristics and their manifestations in the work environment. Goleman tells us that leaders need basic intelligence and job pertinent knowledge to be successful. He summarizes that although intellect is definitely a driver of outstanding performance, emotional intelligence plays an increasingly important role as a person reaches the highest levels of an organization. In reading this article, I immediately began to evaluate the leadership qualities of some of the people I have worked for and put them side by side with the characteristics Goleman dissects. This analysis made me immediately understand that of those supervisors that I admired during my years on active duty, they probably possessed a high level of emotional IQ. Of those I did not emulate, I would consider them to fall low on the emotional intelligence scale.

Therefore, in this opinion paper, I will compare and contrast the five components of emotional intelligence as identified by Daniel Goleman with my experiences as a junior officer. The first component of emotional intelligence is Self Awareness. Self-Awareness is “a consciousness of ones emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives”. A self aware person is able to understand their own emotions and how they affect themselves, other people, and their job performance (Ott p. 99 rt). Someone who is self-aware is not afraid of attributing failure to themselves rather than the organization. I feel that majorities of people in the service are very success oriented (intentionally replacing the word goal oriented) but lack a true self-awareness. Policies and decisions are usually attributed to those higher in the chain of command; self-attribution is look at as a weakness. In 1990, I was taking my first Master’s Degree class at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. The class was a Professional Business writing class that was a requirement for all degree seekers. In the first lecture, the professor noticed about half the class was made up of military professionals.

He stated “The highest grade you will receive in this class will be a B if you are a military person”. He went on to explain the phenomenon of that “military speak” is very passive in nature. I am not sure of the other students but it was a real eye opener for me to learn to break the habits I had learned in the military and was rewarded with a “B” grade. In my experience, success was based on how one conformed to the system. A person who conformed to the values and goals of their superiors would be rewarded with higher performance evaluations than their peers. In the military, where promotions are linked to these evaluations, along with tenure (or tie in rank), many people abandon their own needs and drives to maintain promotability. As for Goleman’s second component, Self-Regulation (in the Robbins text it is also referred to as self-management), I see eye to eye with his analysis.

In many organizations, leadership does not demonstrate apposite self-regulation. We have all had an experience with supervisor who was a ‘screamer’. In an organization such as the military, many believe this type of personality is necessary. Unfortunately, this trait has a pattern of perpetuating itself from superior to subordinate in a closed work environment such as that onboard a naval vessel. The environment of trust and fairness that a person who possesses the traits of good self-regulation brings to the workplace reap benefits in better teamwork and subsequently increased productivity. In the civilian workforce, poor self-regulation has come to the forefront with the recent highly popularized cases such as: •Ken Lay, Enron CEO

• Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco International CEO
•Richard Scrushy, HealthSouth Corporation CEO
•Scott Sullivan, WorldCom Incorporated CFO
•Martha Stewart; Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Incorporated CEO. The facts being presented to the American public are that these once “great” leaders are, in fact, people with very little integrity.

I believe Goleman’s third component of emotional intelligence, Motivation, is one of most important in determining leadership potential. Successful leaders show an unwavering motivation towards their job and all other aspects of their life. They demonstrate a deep commitment to the organization. The tie between the love of their job and their commitment to the organization makes them highly valued individuals and in my estimation is the primary trait that earmarks these individuals for selection into positions of leadership and authority. If an organization truly values its employees and wishes to encourage productivity, they will identify the highly motivated people who can assume positions of leadership. Failure to identify these people early may lead to a feeling of indifference towards the work and they may seek a more creative or challenging place of employment.

In “Awakening employee creativity: The role of leader emotional intelligence” (Jing Zhou and Jennifer George: The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 14, Issues 4-5, Aug-Oct 2003), the authors propose that the root of creativity-supportive leadership behaviors is emotional intelligence. They state: “ Creativity is an inherently difficult endeavor and entails hard work and frustration…People often feel more comfortable sticking to the routine and familiar, rather than heading down the unfamiliar and risky path”. They further imply that creative personalities have a much higher level of motivation and that “…leaders can play a crucial role in awakening and fostering creativity in organizational members…” Empathy is another component of Emotional Intelligence that is hard to find in a highly structured organization like the United States military. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is:

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Many of the U.S. militaries greatest leaders lacked empathy. One of the 20th Centuries great leaders, General George S. Patton, is a prime example. General Patton was truly a great leader but his success came from his consistent, albeit harsh treatment of his subordinates. On the other hand, another equally great leader of that era, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, displayed an empathetic persona regularly. Is empathy therefore a required component of emotional intelligence for military leaders? Should they teach empathy to students at the various accession training schools, middle grade management courses, or service war colleges? The answer is a resounding , NO! This trait is more likely formulated during ones early development and likely becomes an ingrained characteristic of one’s personality well before they even show potential for leadership. For the military, I believe it is the consistency between their words and actions that make both types of persons equally as good at winning battles and gaining troop loyalty.

In civilian industry, however, the mechanics of an organization goals (bottom line: profits) paired with their desires to keep a highly skilled labor force (reduce turnover) requires all managers to demonstrate some level of empathy. The good leader will consider the feelings of his employees in the decision making process. This is even more important when dealing with multi-national organizations wherein language barriers and differences in cultures (national as well as regional) may require another level of understanding during the decision making process. The last and what I feel the most important component of Emotional Intelligence is social skill. Social skill is more than just schmoozing or managing at the deck plates.

According to Goleman’s article social skill is: “Friendliness with a purpose; moving people in the direction you desire…” (Ott p. 103rt) Developing social skill is a continuous process. From the infants initial exposure to friends and relatives, the “high school and college” experience, and into the work force, people are always learning to become comfortable in their social environment. This skill is continually honed as a person begins to master the other four components of emotional intelligence. The advantage of a socially skilled person is their ability to find common ground and talent to build rapport among team members.

As I referred back to the opening paragraphs of Goleman’s article, of the article, I continued to wonder whether the people who have worked for me identified positive aspects of these traits in me. Or like myself, are people more apt to pick out the negative expressions of leadership? As I reached further back into my education and my initial experiences as a subordinate, I saw a contradictory relationship to those factors that Goleman determines makes a good leader. As a midshipman at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, I tended to emulate those that had low self awareness. Although nearly everyone had a high level of motivation, I personally did not have an understanding of my values and goals. During this period, my social skill component was improving both personally and professionally but not in a manner that would lead to improved development of my leadership abilities. In my peer group, we had a name for people who displayed a high level of motivation, self awareness and social skill. The term we used as, pardon my expression, Regimental Douche Bags (RDB’s).

The impression was that these students were just working the system for favors and recognition. In my personal immaturity, I failed to realize is that they were just exhibiting the qualities that Goleman identifies in this article. As I have matured, however, I can agree somewhat with Goleman that emotional intelligence can be learned. The process of learning these qualities is not done through any type of academic forum but, rather in the school of hard knocks. Self assessment and specifically self awareness becomes more apparent when a person decides what they want to do with their life. Once a set of goals is identified, it is through motivation that the path or paths are laid out to achieve them. Milestones and alternative plans are formulated to achieve results or make mid stream adjustments as necessary. Empathy and social skill come into play to gain allegiance and support from those in the individual’s current and future spheres of influence. All the time, each of these components is continually checked against the others to provide balance and feedback. One of the weaknesses that I observed in this article is within the title.

Throughout the text, Goleman refers to great and strong leadership traits as evidenced by the five components of emotional intelligence. He states “In carrying out my work, my objective was to determine which personal capabilities drove outstanding performance within these organizations, and to what degree they did so”. (Ott p.99lt) In keeping with this theme, the article would more appropriately be named “What Makes a Great Leader?” As mentioned earlier, some organizations, such as the U.S. military provide initial leadership ability to people based on job tenure alone while others afford leadership based solely on associations or allegiances with those currently in those positions. Some of these leaders will never become great leaders; nonetheless, they will continue to hold management positions as long as they are employed by these companies.

Secondly, I feel the article fell short by not providing the reader resources to help them develop and refine the skills necessary to increase their emotional intelligence quotient. The author closes the article with a conjecture that these traits can be learned and by doing so will provide great benefits to the individual as well as the organization. With more research having been conducted in the area of emotional intelligence since the original printing of this article (1998), references to such learning methods would be more beneficial. In all, this article provided a good summary into Goleman’s research in the area of emotional intelligence and an overview of the qualities that can be found with persons possessing high emotional IQ’s.


Goleman, Daniel (1998). What Makes a Leader? In J. S. Ott (ed.), Classic Readings in Organizational Behavior. (3rd ed., pp.97-104). Canada: Wadsworth. Robbins, S.P.(2003). Organizational Behavior. (10th ed.). New Jersey. Prentice Hall,

Zhou, J. and George, J. (2003) Awakening employee creativity: The role of leader emotional intelligence. The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 14, Issues 4-5, Aug-Oct 2003.

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