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Cognitive Intelligence for Effective Leadership

“Stupidity appears to affect leadership.” Discuss with reference to theories of leadership.

There is a large amount of research on leadership that has been conducted over the years. People continue to ask what makes a good leader and why leaders make mistakes. Organisations seek those with leadership abilities to improve the bottom line.  But what makes an effective leader? Rosete and Ciarrochi (2005) questioned why leaders with cognitive intelligence and experience do not always succeed in environmental demands and other factors in life.

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For example, Finkelstein et al. (2009) studied 83 cases of bad decisions which have been made by successful leaders. They found that pattern recognition assist leaders with difficult situations by identifying main features of situations that are in line with previously learned patterns.

It was concluded that pattern recognition can cause incorrect decisions when prior patter does not match with current situation. Furthermore, misleading experiences appear to cause mistaken pattern recognition. Leaders make new decisions based on previous decisions making outcomes. Additionally, emotional tagging occurs when emotions are marked to memories that create the foundation of pattern recognition. An emotion linked to a memory can let us know how important or unimportant something is. Problems occur when emotions are linked to misleading experiences. It can be argued that perhaps emotional intelligence (EI) is required, rather than specific personality traits and cognitive intelligence Rosete and Ciarrochi (2005). This essay will focus on theories and research on emotional intelligence and effective leadership.

Emotional Intelligence and Effective Leadership

Emotional intelligence date back to Binet and Darwin who have discovered another type of intelligence other than cognitive intelligence which was expressed as Practical or Social Intelligence (Stenberg, 1985). In 1920, Edward Thorndike initially defined social intelligence (McCelskey, 2014). It is how an individual understands, manages and expresses their emotions and also other people’s emotions (Cherniss, 2004). In present day, EI is becoming an important concept in the business world (Majdalani and Maamari, 2016). The idea of EI suggests thinking and feeling are two different mental processes that work together (Kerr et al., 2006).

The studies that address leadership effectiveness from the transformational/transactional leadership model by Bass and Avolio (1990, 1994), tend to draw a valuable link between EI and leadership. Transactional leaders motivate others by appealing to reward and self-interest, whereas transformational leader by promoting admiration, trust and loyalty, which, in result, motivates others to more than what is excepted (Bass, 1985; Vrba, 2007). Furthermore, transformational style of leadership is based more on emotional process than transactional leadership style (Palmer et al., 2001). Many researchers argue that transformational leadership style endorses better performance in organisations (Harms, 2010; Foster and Roche, 2014). This is because it leads to greater employee satisfaction, commitment and trust, and therefore, it is desirable in most organisations (Vrba, 2007; Cavazotte et al., 2012).

Many researches argue that organisational climate (OC) is mostly affected by the leader’s emotional intelligence. Organisational climate is about the workers perception of their environment at work and how their feeling towards it (Litwin and Stringer, 1968). A positive OC or a good working environment results in organisational growth and success (Goleman, 2000).

Organisations are struggling to maintain competitive and endorse their well-being (Anand and Udaya-Suriyan, 2010). Therefore, companies are seeking leaders with the ability to create a positive OC (Maamari and Majdalani (2017). Goleman et al (2002) argue that the leader’s emotional state plays a significant role in positive organisation climate. Leadership is classified as s social interaction process, where the leader highly influences the behaviour and performance of his or her followers (McClesky, 2014). It is an emotional process that the leader recognises, directs and evokes in other people (Humphrey, 2002), with his/her ability to influence and motivate other people to achieve organisational effectiveness and success (Anand and Udaya-Suriyan, 2010).

There is a large amount of research suggesting that most effective leaders that have a positive impact in others have a high level of EI. For example, Goleman (1995) used the Hay Group to sample 500 organisations, in which he found that effective leadersip is highly correlated with EI. Despite the great amount of research conducted, Zeidner et al. (2004) and Antonakis et al. (2009) criticised his level of empirical research mentioned to support his findings. Other researchers have opposed to the significant relationship between EI and effective leadership, suggesting that these studies have failed to identify statistical support.

There is also some apprehension about how much El includes to our understanding of behaviour.  Rooy and Viswesvaran stated that El showed a association of .22 with general mental ability. It was also found that El was associated with all of the Big Five dimensions of Personality. The most significant correlation appeared to be extraversión (.34), emotional stability (.33), conscientiousness (.31) and at last agreeableness and openness to new experience (.23 respectively).31.

Criticisms have also questioned psychometric components of current emotional intelligence measures. For example, Davies et al. (1998) examined the relationship between El measures, personality, and cognitive abilities in a set of three studies. It was found  that self-report measures either had poor reliability or  tended to weight on traditional personality factors. They also stated that objective measures showed low reliability.32.  While El measures generally show adequate reliability, there is a lack of validity evidence.33

Measuring Emotional Intelligence

Researchers have created a number of models of EI that can be largely categorised as either mixed or ability models (Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso, 2000). The model established by Salovey and Mayer (1990) is distinguished as the ability model. This model is widely used and accepted by academics. It consists of four abilities; ability for emotions perception, ability to use emotions to assist thoughts, and ability to understand and manager emotions.

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Goleman’s (1995, 1998) approach to emotional intelligence is much broader, suggesting that consists a set of social and personal competencies. Social competences involve empathy and social skills such as management in conflict and communication. Personal competences involve motivation, conscientiousness, self-awareness, self-regulation and confidence.

Another similar model to Goleman is Bar-On’s mode (Bar-On, 1997) which includes five broad parts of competencies. These are interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, adaptability, stress management and general mood. This model is identified as either emotional-social intelligence or non-cognitive model.               These two models are considered as mixed models because both include a mixture of skills of personality, character and mental abilities.

Putting theory to practice

This section will show how to fit in emotional intelligence in current leadership training and development programmes. This examines how the dimensions of EI robust into existing practice for leadership development and the approaches that might be effective in developing emotional intelligence competencies in leadership. This section will focus on Goleman’s model and the research around it in terms of practice.

Conger (2004) proposed four approaches to development of leadership; personal growth approach, conceptual understanding approach, and skill building approach. These approaches appear to integrate with three of four Goleman’s competencies drawn from his model which shows that current training and development applied by practitioners relate in some ways with his competencies from his model.

Personal development approach presumes that he trainee requires development in areas such as inner values, passion and talents. This taps with Goleman’s self-awareness as both approaches include development of inner-self. Conceptual approach makes the assumption that there is lacking and complex understanding of leadership. The goal here is to bring awareness of the purpose in leadership. Feedback approach assumes that trainees have already developed their leadership style and this stage will assist trainee with feedback outlining strength and areas which may require improvement in that particular leadership style. This incorporates with Goleman’s self-regulation which both involve identifying abilities, resources and preferences that will assist with feedback going forward. Skill building approach assists trainees with key leadership techniques and skills which involve demonstrating and use step-by-step instructions. This helps with development in social skills which integrates with Goleman’s model.

Additionally, a recent study conducted by Hartman, Conklin and Smith (2007) use methods for leadership development which integrate with Goleman’s model. They conducted a re-evaluation of talks given to leadership students of 12. Hartman et al documented six themes which formed practice-based classifications of leader and leadership effectiveness. The six themes consist of commitment, education, people orientation, communication and difficult challenges.

People orientation integrates with Goleman’s social skills which involves having the ability to learn from other. Communication taps with Goleman’s empathy which according to plentiful literature, it is linked to effective communication skills. Ethical behaviour associates with Goleman’s self-regulation and self-awareness which involves being aware of the main values that involve being an effective leader while self-regulation is classified as the ability to handle resources and one’s impulses in order to remain true to initial values.

It has been argued that training programmes for leadership have very little impact in prolonging changes in people’s behaviour, especially in competencies regarding emotional and social intelligence effectiveness (Boyatzis et al., 2013). However, some leadership training programs have shown otherwise. For example, an early developed programme which was established in the early 1990’s at Case Western Reverse University has shown great improvement in those who had participated. This training programme continued to show increased improvement in the lives and work of executives when applied in a regional bank (Boyatzis et al., 2013).

This essay focused on leadership and how ‘stupidity’ in leadership can be avoided. It was recognised that effective leadership is highly reliant on cognitive intelligence, but it cannot be ignored that emotional intelligence is highly influential in effective leadership. A large amount of literature recognises the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership, despite its critics. Criticisms appear to be concerned with the definition of EI and with the reliability and validity of the measures of EI. Despite  the considerable debate generated around this, El does show some important associates to leadership effectiveness and four of the five competencies of Goleman’s model of El incorporate with contemporary practice in leadership development.


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