Emotional intelligence is key to being a good leader

People with a high level of EI get the best out of others, who in turn love working with and for them, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

Are you a charity manager who has lost your mojo? When you hear Shami Chakrabarti on Question Time, do you think "I wish I could say things as clever as that?" Or do you look at Camila Batmanghelidjh and think you'll never be that memorable even if you wore what she wears?

If so, fear not. For you might yet have the one quality that you need above all others: emotional intelligence. EI was first defined by Daniel Goleman, an American business psychologist. His research showed that leaders with the best bottom-line results also have the best EI.

People with a high level of EI are highly empathetic, they pay people full attention even when they are very busy themselves and they excel at establishing rapport and building networks. They often show self-deprecating humour and calmly mask their low moods, so that people can never tell if they are having a bad day. They constantly seek subtle, measurable improvements. They are also self-aware and open to change, seeking regular feedback about their performance and paying special attention to negative feedback.

Such people get the best out of others, who in turn love working with and for them.

Alas, some leaders are very far from being the complete package. I remember one charity chief executive who fell asleep in his own conference, then walked past hard-working junior staff towards the bar saying just one word: "Drinkipoos."

More commonly, you might have a boss whose moods affect how they treat you, who judges your ideas on your rank rather than on the ideas' merits or who is too quick to pull rank. Such managers are often oblivious to the unspoken emotions within a group, rarely walk the floor to gauge the mood on the front line and favour people who never challenge them.

Some would argue that our sector needs bullish people who demand attention - and if the price of that is ego, so be it. Rubbish. In my view, such charities run the risk of becoming personality cults. They might make a splash in the short term, but the behavioural seeds they sow now will ultimately reap a bitter harvest of higher staff turnover, disengagement and, ultimately, mediocrity.

One of my favourite films is Mr Holland's Opus, which stars Richard Dreyfuss as the eponymous character, a musician-turned-schoolteacher. At the end of his 30-year career teaching music at one school, during which time he has failed to fulfil his dream of becoming a famous composer, Mr Holland is told by generations of his proteges that they and their lives are his symphony.

Question Time might never come calling for charity managers. But the fulfilment that comes quietly, day to day, is greater. If you have the emotional skills to lead from among people, you will be the best of your kind and you will leave the world a far better place than you found it.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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