Sweat the ‘fluffy’ stuff’!

So what makes a good leader or manager? Is it charisma? Technical or financial superiority? Strategic thinking? Always having the right answer? Intuitively knowing which direction to lead in and setting a demanding pace?

Once you have a strategy and can read the numbers, how do you execute your plan? You can’t do it alone so now you need to lead others.

Building and leading a team takes skills, not just vision. It takes effective communication, and I don’t mean just clear instruction.

Enter the ‘so called’ soft skills (I hate that term, it sounds weak and unimportant). Surely this is nothing for a serious CEO to be concerned with? “Don’t we have nice HR to look after all that fluffy stuff?”

When push comes to shove, a CEO (or leader) is responsible to get results; the question is HOW do they do this? Are they being as affective as they can be?

So what does make a good leader?

It was Daniel Goleman in the mid-late 1990’s who first popularised the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ) and its positive effects in managing firstly oneself and then secondly managing others. Through a greater self-awareness one can master and control your own personal triggers. You know, count to 10 and remain curious as to why you may or may not being feeling angry or anxious? Extending this further, become aware of others and their feelings, potential thought patterns and internal triggers. Adjusting your approach to each individual can elicit a more positive outcome for all concerned.

A further study done by the consulting firm May / McBer cited in Goleman (2000), found that with a random selection of over 3800 executives, there were 6 core leadership styles, which emanate from different components of emotional intelligence:

Coercive leaders – demanding compliance
Authoritative leaders – mobilise people toward a vision
Affiliative leaders – emotional bonds and harmony
Democratic leaders – consensus through participation.
Pacesetting leaders – expect excellence and self-direction.
Coaching leaders – develop people for the future

In an attempt to review the impact of these styles, they evaluated the ‘climate’ of the business (the general sense of positivity by employees) as well as its financial performance. Of the six styles, two (coercive and pacesetting) tended to have a negative impact on the climate and subsequently financial performance. Those executives who were stronger in the other four styles, (authoritative, democratic, affiliative and coaching) elicited a more positive climate and better financial results, Goleman (2000).
That’s not to say that there aren’t times in a company’s lifespan where the most effective cause of action requires pacesetting to coercive (in certain times of crisis) but in general a heavier weighting in the four positives is the place to be.

Of course, we all favour one or two of these styles, but the real gold is when we can shift effortlessly between them as the situation requires. This is a skill we are not born with and takes effort and a significant level of emotional intelligence, and the starting point is acknowledging where you are strong and more importantly where you are weak.

So reflect, be honest as ask yourself, “What will work best for my team today?” and witness the results you attain.


Goleman, D. (2000). “What makes a leader?”. Harvard Business Review. March-April Issue.

About the author: Patrick Niland

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