We are operating in a hyper-competitive business environment. The world moves faster today than it did 10 years ago.

Companies feel the pressure to decrease time to market and improve the quality of products while delivering on ever-changing customer expectations to maintain their competitive posture — that is, be adaptive and nimble.

Driving results is difficult even for companies that have the benefit of dedicated and knowledgeable employees and business leaders to count on.

In the early years of leadership studies, the so-called “trait theory” took the view that there is a set of traits that separates the leader from the pack.

Traits purported to be characteristic of leaders included intelligence, a drive to dominate others, being extroverted and having charisma.

Today, however, people often point to the importance of emotional intelligence in achieving leadership effectiveness.

Emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness

In 1985, an influential psychologist named Howard Gardener challenged the current view of intelligence and proposed seven multiple intelligences which included social intelligence.

The idea that there was a connection between success in life and success at work (at least where managing people is a significant factor) became highly credible, and organisations recognised that their best leaders and managers needed to develop an understanding of themselves and others.

This concept gained further popularity in 1995 with Daniel Goleman’s bestseller, Emotional Intelligence.

There is growing evidence that the range of abilities that constitutes what is now commonly known as emotional intelligence plays a key role in determining success in life and in the workplace.

Recent research has uncovered links between specific elements of emotional intelligence and specific behaviours associated with leadership effectiveness and ineffectiveness.

The study using BarOn EQ-i® (Emotional Quotient Inventory), an assessment of emotional intelligence, found that higher levels of certain emotional intelligence components appear to be connected to better performance in leadership roles.

The study also identified potential problem areas that could contribute to executive derailment.

The development of the BarOn model of emotional intelligence evolved from Dr Reuven Bar-On’s early clinical experiences.

Based on these experiences, he asked the question: Why are some individuals more able to succeed in life than others?

After a thorough review of the factors thought to determine success in general, Dr Bar-On found that predicting success is not always based on cognitive intelligence.

Many cognitively intelligent people flounder in life, while many less cognitively intelligent individuals succeed and prosper.

Effective leadership styles

Drawing on research involving more than 3,000 executives, Dr Goleman explored which precise leadership behaviours yielded positive results.

The findings were published in the March 2000 Harvard Business Review article, Leadership That Gets Results.

In that article, he outlined six distinct leadership styles, each one springing from different components of emotional intelligence.

Each style has a distinct effect on the organisational climate or the working atmosphere of a company, division or team and, in turn, on its financial performance.

The styles, by name and brief description alone, will resonate with anyone who leads, is led or, as is the case with most people, does both.

* Commanding leaders demand immediate compliance; 

* Visionary leaders mobilise people towards a vision;

* Participative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony;

* Democratic leaders build consensus through participation;

* Pace-setting leaders expect excellence and self-direction; and

* Coaching leaders develop people for the future.

Flexible leadership, however, involves being able to adapt your leadership style according to the situation and the state of the team, for example, taking charge when a team is forming but playing the role of coach when a team is managing itself well.

This is critical in developing and sustaining employee engagement.

The fact that leadership qualities are dependent on context is demonstrated in the film Twelve O’Clock High.

In this film, which was produced in 1949, as a squadron starts to suffer increasing losses during the war, the leader’s people-oriented approach starts to fail.

He is replaced by a dictatorial bully who turns the squadron around and restores its pride.

In a modern setting, such leadership behaviour would very likely be regarded as unacceptable.

Leaders with a vision

Organisations need leaders to visualise the future, motivate and inspire employees, and adapt to changing needs.

Research by human capital management consulting firm DBM indicates that with the right leadership development support, including executive coaching, those with leadership potential can be developed into outstanding leaders.

Emotional intelligence competencies are perhaps the most challenging for leaders to develop effectively — and they often have the most impact.

As emotionally intelligent leaders rise through the ranks, their profile becomes more visible to employees and their increased power can have a greater impact on the success of the organisation.