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Inspirational Leadership Arises from a Working Understanding of ESI

Inspirational Leaders Arise from a Working Understanding of ESI

The process of becoming an inspirational leader involves the development of multiple Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI) competencies, each contributing to new realizations about how to lead more effectively.

Emotional self-awareness and emotional self-control drive this transformation, particularly in the context of learning to apply ESI in real-time social interactions. That was revealed in part of my 2016 study on leadership, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence. The analysis included use of the ESI model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, and indicated that leaders linked strength in inspirational leadership to greater career success and satisfaction.

The Competency of Inspirational Leadership

Inspirational leadership focuses on an individual’s interest in, and capacity to lead, regardless of their formal title or position within an organization. Strength in this competency is exemplified by the ability to unify others towards a common goal, which involves other competencies such as influence and organizational awareness.

An inspirational leader will exhibit a sense of pride in his/her work, but also understand the importance of creating a sense of group ownership, and an engaging work environment. The ability to effectively present new or challenging ideas to a group is another attribute of inspirational leaders, as is the ability to lead during times of crisis.

What Inspirational Leadership Looks Like in the Workplace

The leaders I interviewed for my research spoke extensively about how they motivated and inspired their teams. However, they also revealed that these capabilities arose from development of self-awareness. This process was described as being profound, and transformational in relation to participants’ understanding of what is required to be a truly effective leader. For example, the Head of Talent Development for one of the largest hospital networks in the U.S. linked inspirational leadership to a new understanding of the way feelings influence engagement, which he summarized as “we need to really access the way we treat people, the way we treat ourselves, the way we understand emotion in the work place.” In this instance, new realizations about the role played by emotion in workplace performance significantly influenced this participant’s beliefs, and behaviors relating to inspirational leadership strategies.

Another participant, the Senior Manager for a leading global consulting firm, elaborated on the importance of inspiring employees via authentic relationships: “you develop this sort of connection with the person you’re managing…there’s this empathy that goes on when the person you’re managing respects and appreciates you for trying to understand what’s really going on.”

Other leaders shared details of how they engaged their direct reports on an emotional level. For instance, the senior legal counsel for a leading international healthcare product manufacturer talked about the importance of modeling behaviors in the context of inspirational leadership: “I’m going to try my best and do the best I can, and I think just that one little thing can be inspiring to my team.”

Participants also frequently mentioned the importance of earning trust, such as an HR leader for a major US healthcare network, who stated “I’ve always really worked to try to build trusting relationships with individuals through, not necessarily my words, but my actions.” Another participant, who has been responsible for supply chain operations at three well-known global organizations, touched on the value of demonstrating ethical behavior, saying “… if that leader is doing it with integrity, people are all in… and will join with you at the hip to do what you’re trying to do.”

Developing Yourself as an Inspirational Leader

The leaders I interviewed believed that their success depended upon their ability to effectively articulate team objectives, and actively support others in achieving them. They understood that success required them to demonstrate the behaviors needed to reach those goals on a daily basis as well. Fundamental to these realizations was an awareness that others can detect exaggerated statements, false confidence, and insincerity.

There are a number of steps you can take to develop the type of engaged and supportive workplace relationships associated with Inspirational Leadership. A good place to start is honestly assessing whether or not you are overloading yourself with tasks that could be delegated to others. This is an important step, since task-oriented workload takes away from time that can be invested in personal and team development. In addition to protecting you from burnout, properly managed delegation cultivates trust and respect between leaders and their staff as well.

Part of this assessment should also include some reflection on why you may have unrealistic expectations for yourself concerning the amount and type of work you should be able to support.

In addition, give some thought to what you believe others expect of you, and whether or not some of your workplace behavior may be motivated by trying to fulfill standards that are difficult to live up to. The objective of this activity is to begin exploration of beliefs around workplace roles with others as part of a trust-building process, contributing to the following:

  • honest dialog about performance expectations and areas for improvement
  • stronger relationships based on openness and vulnerability
  • sharing of lessons learned from failures and successes
  • opportunities to share responsibilities and recognition

Leaders told me that involving subordinates in activities such as risk assessment and decision-making also had a positive impact on team loyalty. They reported that being open about their own feelings of fear and worry relating to these and other leadership activities helped their direct reports better understand, and relate to, the difficulties of being a leader. Overall, leaders indicated that their ability to inspire performance improved as they invested more time into cultivating personal connections with others through these types of activities.

Recommended Reading:

Our new series of primers focuses on the 12 Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, including Emotional Self-Awareness, Adaptability, Influence, Teamwork, and Inspirational Leadership.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies – including the author of this article, Matthew Taylor.

See the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!




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Attunement: The First Step in Inspirational Leadership

Carl sits in his office in front of his computer on Sunday night, deep in thought.  Tomorrow he will introduce the strategic priority for the next year to his team, and he needs to inspire them.  He has spent more time working on this presentation than most, revising for the most compelling language and the most striking visuals. He has practiced the presentation with his partner to improve his presence and capture just the right mood.  He has and will put in many hours to prepare for this high stakes engagement.  And yet, when he arrives in the conference room, Carl will not be able to shake a nagging worry:  will this land with my team?  Will it inspire them?

While there is plenty that Carl may be doing right in this scenario, he is missing at least one key ingredient of inspiration: connection to his team.  Resonant leaders know that inspiration comes largely from connecting to what their teams care about.  It takes strong social awareness to create this kind of connection, which Daniel Goleman describes as the ability to, “breathe life into the hopes and dreams of others.” He calls this attunement—a direct connection with people’s emotional centers.1

How to Become Attuned to Others

If I were coaching Carl, our team inspiration work would have started weeks earlier, and it wouldn’t have happened in front of his computer.  Leaders who find themselves at a point of change or transition need to engage their teams early in the planning process.  Jentz and Murphy’s “Embracing Confusion,” while written for new leaders, can be an excellent resource for any leader in need of becoming more attuned to their teams in times of change or challenge.2  In this piece the authors urge leaders to “hit the ground learning.”  Jentz and Murphy lay out a process for systematically engaging stakeholders as experts in their experience of a team and a problem, forcing leaders to adopt a learner mindset and encouraging them to roll up their sleeves and engage their teams one-on-one as thought partners.   Jentz and Murphy’s process ends with leaders engaging their teams in “sense-making.”  In these conversations leaders share what they have learned and challenge their teams to grapple together with the complex, messy issues connected to their biggest challenges.

Coaching for Competencies and Attunement

Jentz and Murphy’s process is an exercise in building attunement. As Carl engages in it over time I would focus my coaching on raising his self-awareness and self-management, surfacing and managing his internal obstacles and personal strengths connected to empathic listening and collaborative problem solving.  My goals would be the following:

1) Build Carl’s appreciation for the power of connecting through listening for the needs, hopes, dreams, aspirations and values of people.

2) Build his ability to get out of his leader persona and engage his team in healthy, unfiltered collaboration as part of a strategy-building process.

As Carl listens for why his people care and engages them as partners in their collective challenge, he will be able to meet his team at a place of common belief and aspiration.  Simultaneously he will be building trust—another pre-requisite to true inspiration.

Connecting the Gaps

Engaging teams isn’t just about connecting, however.  Strong leaders also engage to diagnose gaps between their teams are currently, and where their teams need to be to reach their potential.  As Goleman writes, strong leaders “slow down to speed up” by engaging people in looking at the gaps.3   I would also be coaching Carl to explore his team’s gaps from both technical (logistics, skills and knowledge) and adaptive (relationships, emotions, and beliefs) perspectives by asking him two simple questions, over and over:

Where is your team right now, and where do they need to be to reach their potential?

Leaders are able to answer these questions accurately by adding the data that comes from person-to-person engagement to the rest of their diagnostic data.  As a result, socially aware leaders attuned to their team’s gaps are most likely to meet their team’s needs, while also reaching big picture objectives.  What is more inspiring than hearing your leader accurately name and go after your needs?

Flash forward now to Carl sitting at his desk after engaging deeply with his team. He no longer sits alone, attempting to pull his most inspiring ideas out of his head.  He now sits with the hopes, dreams, fears, and shared problem-solving of his team.  Their words surround him and inform his own hopes and dreams for the team’s new strategic priority.   He is not worried about whether his people will be inspired by what he says, because he already knows that he will be speaking the same language when he stands in front of them.  Because he is attuned, he will be able to meet the emotional needs of his team.  In fact, that work—the work of inspiring—has mostly already been done.  As he turns out the light he feels confident and calm knowing that the connection he has earned leading up to this moment is worth so much more than the very best words and sensational visuals.

Recommended Reading:

Our new series of primers focus on the 12 Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, including Emotional Self-Awareness, Adaptability, Influence, Teamwork, and Inspirational Leadership.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies – including the author of this article, Matthew Taylor.

See the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!





Citation #1 and #3:  Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, (2002) Primal Leadership. (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing)

Citation #2: Barry Jentz and Jerome T. Murphy. “Starting Confused:  How Leaders Start When They Don’t Know Where to Start” (Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 86, No. 10, June 2005, pps. 736-744).


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Engaging the Whole Person at Work


When we see ourselves and our co-workers only as tools to get the job done it is difficult to connect with one another as human beings. Connection is essential to building high performing and high functioning teams, not to mention to creating job fulfillment.

There is a story Max DePree shared in his book Leadership is An Art (1987), told by his father about visiting with the wife of the Millwright for the Herman Miller factory after her husband died. It was in the 1920’s and Max’s dad went to pay his respects to the Millwright’s wife. During his visit the Millwright’s wife asked his father if he’d mind if she read some poetry. He thought it would be appropriate and sat back to listen. As she read, the beauty of the poem resonated with him. He’d never heard this poetry before and asked who the poet was. She said it was her husband, the Millwright. The man who had been integral to the Herman Miller manufacturing processes, who provided the power for the machinery in his factory, dismantled machines and moved them around was a poet. This came as a surprise; he’d known the man but didn’t know he had this talent outside of work. It motivated him to see that leaders must, “endorse a concept of person”.

As I read this in the early ”˜90’s I realized that this lesson is bigger than the “concept of person” in a tops down view. It is about connection, learning about the people who work with you and sharing yourself with them. When you connect with the people who work with you, you discover other interests, talents, loves, and they in turn learn something about you.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make if you know the Millwright is a poet, the Accountant is a photographer, the HR Manager’s child is seriously ill or the Customer Service Specialist has just lost her mother?

Business is structured as a well-defined hierarchy that defines us by our titles and the roles we play within business, and our interactions are determined by these roles. The playing field is tilted in favor of the leadership, but should it be? By coming to understand more about ourselves and the people we work with, we can see that occasional missteps at work often result from a much larger context; a problem at home, the death of a beloved pet or some other distraction. They aren’t necessarily about lack of competence or skill, sloppiness or a bad attitude.

Without making excuses we understand that we all have days that are a challenge. “Endorsing the concept of person” builds team and team makes it possible to confront unexpected challenges in the day-to-day life of business, whether it’s shaky sales, disruption of production, strained cash flow, the loss of a well-liked co-worker or the acquisition of a new customer with compassion and understanding. We have jobs and roles within a company, but when we can connect not only through job and role but as fellow humans, we create an authentic engagement that fosters an environment in which human creativity and satisfaction grow and thrive. We form a sense of equality in an otherwise hierarchical unequal environment. The consistency with which we can cultivate these fleeting opportunities, over time builds a level of trust essential to a high functioning team. The challenge is that many believe that when a leader opens up they will be seen as weak or vulnerable. The opposite is true.

Here’s how this played out in my leadership experience

I worked with a smart and capable Engineering Manager who had a reputation as a tremendous problem solver, but he had started to become impatient with process and prone to angry tirades. He seemed to be seething inside. Many of his attacks were directed at individuals. My boss at the time wanted me to “get rid of him.” His behavior was undermining his position with the company and his credibility; people were starting to avoid him. What he lacked was Emotional Self-Control.

Instead of turning my feelings off and seeing him as the “problem” and firing him I sat down with him to talk about anger. Not only his, but mine. I shared some of my frustrations and how important it was to see them and be with them, but not project them out onto others. As we discussed the situation he began to explain what was behind his anger. He kept pointing at the things other people were doing, and I’d share more about my own anger and how my frustration was often rooted in not really understanding how to move the needle and effect change.

Finally I looked at him and said, “You know the anger has to stop. It doesn’t matter what provokes you, you can’t act out and mistreat other people on the team, no matter how frustrated you are. There are positive and constructive ways to address the issues that are frustrating you. You need to find them or ask for help. Do you understand?” He replied that he understood. We talked about the possibility of anger management counseling. He didn’t think he needed it. I told him that I valued him as a co-worker and friend but that if he had another angry outburst, I’d have to let him go, no second chances. As we continued to talk, I asked, “Do you want to stay here?” He said, “Yes. I like it here, I want to stay.” I followed with,  “Do you think you can do this?’ His response,  “Yes, I know I can.”

The problem was now entirely within his control. I knew some of the difficulties he was dealing with outside of the workplace, and understood that having control would likely result in a better outcome. Through our connection and sharing, he knew that I’d had similar challenges in my work life, and others had as well. It wasn’t having the feelings that were the problem it was what he did with them. At this point, he began to problem-solve for himself. He identified his triggers and ways he could address them.  He looked at me and said, “Thanks, I think I need to apologize to a few folks.” He kept his job, and worked better with others from that point on.

By being authentic and curious about his issues, sharing my own, and not taking the easy route of simply replacing him, we built a connection together that made it possible to discuss the issue not just as a boss and employee, but as two human beings. By “endorsing the concept of person”, we created a moment of equality and authentic connection that helped him move from being a victim to understanding the impact his behavior was having on the organization and the need for him to take responsibility. This is leading with emotional intelligence.

Recommended Reading:

Emotional Self-Control: A Primer

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

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How to Influence Others to Get Things Done

By Richard Boyatzis

In most work situations, we work with others to get things done. Often, that means convincing people to agree with our point of view. To be most effective at bringing people to see the wisdom of your viewpoint, you need Influence, a key social intelligence competency and one of the elements I discuss with Daniel Goleman in Foundations of Emotional Intelligence and Crucial Competence.

The underlying intent of the Influence Competency is seeking to get others to agree with you.

The behaviors that indicate this Competency are doing things that appeal to their self-interest or anticipating the questions they would have and addressing them before they ask.

There is a part of Influence that becomes almost universally an indicator of effective leadership.

Actually, many of the Influence Competency indicators are good sales practices, but Influence matters for people at all levels of leadership, not just for salespeople.

Interestingly though, in certain types of leadership, Influence can have a negative impact. We found in a study of Catholic parish priests that if the priest is using Influence and people feel like it’s gone too far or that it belies a lack of humility, then it creates the opposite impact. A study of MBA students 5 to 19 years after graduation found that those who used the Influence competency at graduation were less satisfied with their lives and careers later.

Influence is a competency that needs to be applied appropriately and not go too far

That’s what we call Inspirational Leadership in our Emotional and Social Intelligence Model. This is when you’re influencing others not just to come around to your point of view””the Influence competency””but because it fits with the shared vision, purpose, or mission of the organization. When you are trying to get people to rally around this larger, often more noble purpose, it’s the competency we call Inspirational Leadership. The intent is to inspire people in their pursuit of the shared vision or mission. What it looks like in action is talking about the mission””the sense of purpose, why we are all here””and raising it up to a higher level.

How to Develop Your Influence Capability

What is the easiest way to develop or refine your Influence capability, your ability to get others to do what you want them to do? The behavioral indicators come across as pre-selling or making an argument to someone anticipating what they want out of it, and figuring out what each person can get in the situation. The easiest way to learn those techniques is to take a really good sales training course. There are a number of outstanding, three and a half-day to five-day courses out there sold by different training companies. If you really want to learn how to do the Influence competency and do it well, go through a sales training. It doesn’t mean you will become a salesperson, but it does help you in all of the ways you might want to use Influence.

To get started though, keep these three methods in mind:

  1. Aim to appeal to the self-interest of the people you’re communicating with. How would your intention benefit them?
  2. Think about any potential opposition that could arise, and prepare thoughtful ways to address those before presenting your ideas.
  3. Talk about the bigger mission of the group beyond your personal point of view.

Interested in learning more about building emotional and social leadership?

All 12 of the EI Competencies are explored in Crucial Competence, through in-depth conversations between myself, Daniel Goleman, and several other experts in the field. Foundations in Emotional Intelligence provides a great overview, and focuses exclusively on my conversation with Daniel Goleman.


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Want to Inspire? First, Develop Trust


By George Kohlrieser

If you want to inspire a team or organization, first you must develop trust.

What leaders have inspired you? Who is the best boss you have ever had? Beneath the inspiration it is likely that there was a strong sense that you could trust that person and that they trusted you. Without having trust in an organization’s leaders, people will not be inspired to follow their direction.

Trust is a key aspect of secure base leadership. I have worked extensively with this concept, which came out of the work of John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory. A secure base is a person, a place, or a thing that creates a sense of comfort, gives energy, and inspires one to be curious, seek challenge and take risk. A secure base is someone who provides both safety and challenge. Secure bases can also be anything that inspires, like goals, symbols, places, memories. Secure base leadership is the ability to create a state of safety not for the sake of safety but to support someone in stepping outside their comfort zone where creativity, innovation, and exploration best takes place.

You can think of it like a child’s relationship to their parent, caretaker, grandparents, or teacher. They want to be close to them to feel safe, but they don’t want to stay there. They want to go out and explore. A leader has to create that same environment. They must create a trusting and safe environment, in which a person can explore possibilities and the potential of what she can do.

For any of you familiar with climbing, another way of thinking about it is like belaying. The belayer acts as a “secure base,” positioning himself or herself at the bottom of the ascent. The climber is attached to one end of the rope and the belayer, using a device clipped to his harness, holds the other end of the rope so that the climber has enough slack to move, but not enough to fall any great distance. As the climber advances upwards, the belayer remains at the bottom to secure the climber. The relationship is all about trust. The climber, like an employee, can take risks precisely because the secure base figure or leader below is supporting them.

Why Is Trust so Important?

Trust has an important effect on how our brain functions. The brain has one fundamental goal: to survive. And most people are living to survive. However, more than 80 percent of people are not really thriving, and are driven instead, by a fear of failure or anticipated loss. For success at life and work, the brain has to be rewired to focus on thriving, on opportunities and on looking for what is right and what is possible when something goes wrong. If there is trust, people can drop their programmed defensiveness and become more open to new ideas and solutions. Leaders who care about their teams are able to dare them to stretch (and to take risks).

There is a paradox here between caring and daring. A leader can show trust — and caring — and still hold people accountable. Caring is not rescuing. I ask leaders around the world, “How caring should a leader be?” It should be 100 percent. AND — How daring should a leader be? It’s 100 percent.

When a leader earns trust, it’s like they are putting her or his hand on your shoulder so that you are not afraid of failure. Great bosses trust others and don’t punish failure. Instead they give high quality feedback and ask you to change.

If we translate caring and daring to leadership styles using Dan Goleman‘s model, the affiliative style is a good basis to work from as it is the personal part of leading. However the leader should never accept lower standards and that’s why the affiliative style has to be combined with the visionary style of leadership, which means that people will want to follow the leader to “dare” themselves and to be inspired. These leaders deliver “pain” (feedback) and people say ”thank you, give me more pain (feedback)!” Why? Because they see the benefit of the pain (feedback) to reach high performance.

Trust creates an environment that enables us to attach and to bond with others. It is the opposite of detachment, isolation, over-independence or self-reliance. In teams it creates a sense of belonging which is essential for collaboration in high performance.

What does an organization look like that is based on trusted and Secure Base Leadership?

It starts at the top. When you walk in, people feel welcomed. They feel a sense of calm rather than defensiveness. They don’t feel like they are going to be judged. You see people doing things spontaneously, being able to engage in proactive behavior and teamwork. Most importantly, you see the resolution of conflict. There is always going to be differences, and those differences can drive people apart, break the connections, and break bonds. You always find people are able to engage in good conflict management – a Crucial Competence – because the trust and the bond is maintained.

How can you Develop Trust within your teams?

Developing trust takes focus and commitment. How do you rate yourself on these nine areas that characterize a secure base leader?

  1. Staying calm under pressure
  2. Accepting the individual while encouraging change
  3. Seeing the potential in people
  4. Using listening and inquiry
  5. Delivering a powerful message
  6. Focusing on the positive
  7. Encouraging risk taking
  8. Inspiring through intrinsic motivation
  9. Signaling accessibility

Learn more about Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies in Crucial Competence: Building Emotional and Social Leadership or The Competent Leader with George Kohlrieser.