What Makes a Leader: A book review by Bob Morris

What Makes a LeaderWhat Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters
Daniel Goleman
More Than Sound (2014)

The “green thumb” needed to “grow” leaders

My wife is a gourmet chef and what she demonstrated again last evening is that a great dinner depends almost entirely on three key factors: the raw materials, knowledge (the “what”), and skill (the “how”). I thought about this as I was reading Daniel Goleman’s recently published anthology of essays that had originally appeared in various business journals, including HBR.

His key point – and I agree – is that, when it comes to predicting who amongst highly intelligent people will emerge as the most productive, “the best team member or an outstanding leader, emotional intelligence increasingly matters. That’s because emotional intelligence skills – how well we manage ourselves and our relationships – are the skills that distinguish outstanding performers. And the higher one goes in an organization, the more EI matters in distinguishing the most effective leaders.”

The essays in this volume reflect Goleman’s own personal growth and professional development during a remarkably productive 15-year period, from “What Makes a Great Leader” (HBR, November/December 1998) to “The Leader’s Triple Focus” (adapted from Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, published by Harper in 2013). Over time, he has increased his knowledge and strengthened various skills to produce work of increasingly higher quality and value while nourishing various relationships with his associates, clients, and students. I am especially impressed by the more direct and more personal rapport with his reader that Goleman has developed over the years. I am among countless others who felt that, while reading Focus, for example, he had written it specifically for me. Only someone with highly developed emotional intelligence could accomplish that.

There are no head-snapping revelations in this collection of essays written for HBR and other business journals, nor does Goleman make any such claim. For more than two decades, the greatest value of the information, insights, and counsel that he provides is that – together – they help to establish a rock-solid foundation which to develop increasingly stronger management as well as leadership skills. The word “increasingly” indicates my conviction that executive development is a never-ending process, not an ultimate destination.

I am among those who have read all of the books from which these essays have been extracted. (Indeed, in some instances, the book was based on an essay.) I re-read them in this volume and, again, found something I had missed during a previous reading. I now presume to make three suggestions. First, consider this volume as an excellent gift to those who are now preparing for a career in business or who have only recently embarked on one. Also, if you are a supervisor with several direct reports entrusted to your care, consider purchasing a copy for each and thereby nourish their aspirations to lead others.

Finally, check out LEADERSHIP: A MASTER CLASS with Daniel Goleman. This is a set DVDs of his conversations with Daniel Siegel, (“The Leader’s Mind”), Warren Bennis (“The Socially Intelligent Leader”), Erica Ariel Fox (Getting Beyond Yes”), Caludio Fernández-Aráoz (“Talent Strategy”), Bill George (“Authentic Leadership”), Teresa Amabile (“Create to Innovate”), Howard Gardner (“Today’s Leadership Imperative”), and George Kohlrieser (“High Performance Leadership”). A bonus interview of Peter Senge is included.

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