Are Leaders Born?

woman boss holding mug

We have all met great leaders in our time, and they definitely stand out when compared to the rest.  What characterises them from the simply good leaders…

Daniel Goleman* says ‘It isn’t IQ or technical skills.  It’s emotion intelligence that enables the best leaders to maximise their own and their followers’ performance.”

Emotional Intelligence has been found to definitely be a genetic component, meaning people are born with differently levels of EQ.  It has been found that ‘nurture’ plays a role in building emotional intelligence and it has also been found to increase with age.  Otherwise known as maturity, it also explains why in the past most of the world’s leaders tend to be on the older side.

Emotional Intelligence is born largely in the neuro transmitters of the limbic system of the brain, this area manages our feelings, impulses and our drives, essentially our ‘emotion’ part of the brain. 

Contrast this to the neo-cortex section of our brain, which controls our analytical and technical abilities, the area where we are able to grasp concepts and logic.  We use our neo-cortex to figure out how to work a computer, or how to make a sales call by reading a book.

Research shows that the best way to improve your emotional intelligence and work out that limbic system, is through motivation, extended practice and feedback.

There are five main skills connected with emotional intelligence:

Self-Awareness, this is the knowing of one’s strengths, but also their weaknesses, what drives them, what they place value on and knowing their impact on others.

This is seen as self-confidence and having a realistic self-assessment, a self-deprecating sense of humour and a thirst for constructive criticism.

Self-Regulation – this is the controlling or corrective direction of disruptive impulses and moods.

An example of self-regulation is when a team makes an error on a report and the leader resists the urge to lash out at the team or to blame them, instead considers the reasons why the error may have occurred, explains the consequences to the team, explores solutions with them to fix the error but also how to ensure that the process is changed so it isn’t repeated.  This builds trust within the team and in the leader.

Motivation – relishing achievement for its own sake.

The hallmarks of motivation are having a passion for the work and new challenges, an optimism in the face of failure and persistent energy to improve.

Empathy – understanding other people’s emotional makeup, putting yourself in another’s shoes.

Having and showing empathy to others allows you to gain expertise in attracting and retaining talent, a sensitivity to cross-cultural differences but most of all, it allows you as a leader the ability to develop others.

Social Skills – building rapport with others to move them in desired directions. 

This area is described as having effectiveness in leading change, it is also described as persuasiveness.  It consists of extensive networking, and expertise in building and leading teams, skills that take extended practice and feedback to hone and perfect.

Whilst we can work on all of the above here and there, it is important to note that emotional intelligence will not and cannot be increased without sincere desire.  Improving your emotional intelligence requires your personal investment – an investment worth making.


* Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1996)

Recent Posts