Emotional and relational intelligence are the foundation of leadership.

Rational intelligence is necessary for leadership. Emotional and relational intelligence are no less essential. A good leader’s ability to arouse positive emotions in others is decisive. This is a skill that can always be nurtured and developed.


Remember… Close your eyes, get inside your mental space and remember. Remember a person who was important in your life because they inspired you to give the best of yourself. A teacher, a manager, a coach. It was was motivating to have this person to work with, to act with. Remember the way they would interact with you, the way they behaved, the way they talked. And how you felt with them.


When we ask someone why that certain person had such an impact on them, we usually receive answers such as: “they trusted me”, “they gave me responsibilities”, “they gave meaning to my work”, “they pushed me to be bold”, “they were positive”… Often, the person described was technically competent – even an expert – in their field, but it was above all their attitude, their knowledge of how to be, that really made a difference.


We all know, intuitively, what a good leader is. In the multitude of teachers, elders, colleagues we have had, some of them stand out in our memories. And if they have kept a special place in our memory, considering their positive role in our life, it is generally less because of the extent of their knowledge than because of the way they were, the relationship we had with them.


Several kinds of intelligence


In Descartes’ country even more than elsewhere, we evaluate people by their cognitive intelligence, or logical-mathematical intelligence. It is the one that is measured by the infamous IQ (intelligence quotient) (1). Now, we all know colleagues, friends, executives, who have a highly developed logical intelligence, but who are known to make very lousy leaders.


Two other types of intellect are essential to make a good or even a great leader. The first is emotional intelligence (or intra-personal intelligence) (2). It is the ability to be aware of one’s own emotions, needs, and desires. Based on a deep knowledge of oneself, it allows to understand oneself, to anticipate one’s own behaviors, to know one’s limits.


The second is relational intelligence (or interpersonal intelligence). What is at stake here is the ability to understand others and communicate with them in an appropriate manner. For it is not a question of using this intelligence to manipulate or dominate the other. We all know that the people who have brought us to transcend ourselves have done so in a genuine manner, by being consistent in their discourse, their behavior and their values (3).


Other types of intelligences (linguistic, spatial, bodily, etc.) can be useful for leadership (4), but the truly fundamental ones are emotional and relational intelligences. It is these resources that will mainly enable the great leader to positively influence their environment.


Firstly by giving meaning, by helping people understand the context in which their actions take place. By showing the extent to which their actions contribute to something greater than themselves, something beyond them. The great leader inspires hope. An idea, a feeling, that will lead their employees to give the very best of themselves.


The great leader will as well put a strong value on the relationship he develops with each person, a relationship based on the real attention he pays to them – even if only for a short time -, trust, kindness and empathy.


“When we feel that we are important to others, we care about them too and we don’t want to disappoint them,” reminds Richard Boyatzis (5).


Emotional and relational intelligence are innate, but our education has often stifled them. At home, at school, at work, the suppression of emotions or even their denial are generally accepted better than the understanding of their expression. We often reach adulthood with a real impediment in emotional and relational intelligence, and men even more so than women.


Stress is another recurring enemy of these dimensions. Deep stress, the one that can assail us when faced with a major difficulty. Chronic stress as well, the one that arises from a constant sense of urgency and from the build-up of small daily frustrations… being stuck in traffic, a computer that isn’t working properly, missing an appointment… Do you still feel capable of genuine attention towards a colleague, your child or your spouse, when the day has been an accumulation of small annoyances and you have a constant feeling of urgency? No, of course not. As everybody does.


Our experience in coaching executives shows us every day how much these emotional and relational shortcomings harm teams, organizations and the executives themselves, as well as their performance and their well-being. All the more so as the directive management style becomes more and more ineffective and counter- productive, with a new generation expecting above all respect, acknowledgement, and fulfilment (6).


Fortunately, what has been lost can be found again. Emotional intelligence, relational intelligence, can be worked on, developed and perfected. This is clearly one of the recurring themes of our executive coaching, as we are committed to at VISCONTI. This is done above all through experience and experimentation, trial and error. One does not develop an emotional intelligence by merely using one’s logical intelligence. You have to experience emotion and relationships in order to internalize them. You don’t learn to fall in love in books.


1 We are referring here to multiple intelligences as modelled by Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York, Basic Books, 1993).

2 See on this subject Daniel Goleman’s book: L’intelligence émotionnelle (J’ai Lu, 2003) and L’intelligence émotionnelle au travail, by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee (J’ai Lu, 1998).

3 See Richard Boyatzis’s book: Resonant Leadership (Mcgraw Hill Gb, 2005).

4 We do not define leadership here, but refer the reader to the other articles in this booklet.

5 Resonant Leadership, op. cit.

6 The five words that best characterize the quality of life at work: 64% respect, 58% recognition, 46% fulfillment, 40% motivation, 39% friendliness. Anact TNS Sofres survey, 2013.