The Challenge of Leading with Emotional Intelligence

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The paper Wisdom and Narcissism as Predictors of Transformational Leadership analyzes the relationship between wisdom, narcissism and transformational leadership. The definition of wisdom they used is the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm (Balters & Smith, 2008), defined across five dimensions:

  1. Rich factual knowledge about life
  2. Rich procedural knowledge about life, significantly related to emotional intelligence
  3. Lifespan contextualism, understanding of life contexts and interrelations
  4. Relativism of values and life priorities
  5. Recognition and management of uncertainty

The paper then follows in giving us a first insight on why we have this bias in the leadership models at the top of organizations:

Leaders with high value relativism, while attempting to make the work environment harmonious for all, may lose influence because they lack strong and clearly defined expectations and direction.
— Greaves et. al. (2014)

This means that 2 out of 5 key values of a wise leader actually play against their own leadership, because it gets perceived not as a value to navigate uncertainty, but as a lack of vision.

The finding of a negative relationship between value relativism and transformational leadership suggests that raters may have viewed tolerance of different values and priorities in a leader as vacillating.
— Greaves et. al. (2014)

We still need to do a lot of work, but the partial conclusion we can get from this clear bias against wise leaders is that being a good leader means both wisdom, the real value, and the perception of a clear vision, the perceived value.

This in some way also sheds some light on why visionary statements – like Google’s mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – work: they are stable, long term visions, but given the longer term, they also allow for the wise “flowing with change”.

Thanks to Gianandrea Giacoma for the inspiration.

Reference: Greaves, C. E., Zacher, H., McKenna, B., & Rooney, D. (in press). Wisdom and narcissism as predictors of transformational leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal.