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Emotions and leadership: The role of emotional intelligence, Jennifer George, Human Relations, August 2000 v53 i8 p1027
ABSTRACT This paper suggests that feelings (moods and emotions) play a central
role in the leadership process. More specifically, it is proposed that
emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage moods and
emotions in the self and others, contributes to effective leadership in
organizations. Four major aspects of emotional intelligence, the appraisal and
expression of emotion, the use of emotion to enhance cognitive processes and
decision making, knowledge about emotions, and management of emotions, are
described. Then, I propose how emotional intelligence contributes to effective
leadership by focusing on five essential elements of leader effectiveness:
development of collective goals and objectives; instilling in others an
appreciation of the importance of work activities; generating and maintaining
enthusiasm, confidence, optimism, cooperation, and trust encouraging
flexibility in decision making and change; and establishing and maintaining a
meaningful identity for an organization.
KEYWORDS affect * emotion * emotional intelligence * leadership * mood
By all counts, leadership ranks among the most researched and debated topics
in the organizational sciences. A wide diversity of approaches to leadership
has been proposed -- researchers have analyzed what leaders are like, what
they do, how they motivate their followers, how their styles interact with
situational conditions, and how they can make major changes in their
organizations, for example (for reviews of the leadership literature see Bass,
1990; Fiedler & House, 1994; Yukl, 1998; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992). Researchers
have also explored when leadership might not be important and some leadership
experts have proposed that leadership is more a creation in the minds of
followers than a characteristic of those who occupy leadership roles (e.g.
Meindl, 1990). While we have learned much about leadership from this diversity
of approaches, it still remains somewhat of an enigma. While research has been
conducted which supports (and sometimes fails to support) currently popular
theories, and these theories have increased our understanding of leadership,
how and why leaders have (or fail to have) positive influences on their
followers and organizations is still a compelling question for leadership
While existing studies detail what leaders are like, what they do, and how
they make decisions, the effects of leaders' feelings or their moods and
emotions and, more generally, the role of emotions in the leadership process,
are often not explicitly considered in the leadership literature, with the
notable exception of work on charisma (e.g. Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Lindholm,
1990). This relative neglect is not surprising as the organizational
literature has been dominated by a cognitive orientation (Ilgen & Klein,
1989), with feelings being ignored or being seen as something that gets in the
way of rationality and effective decision making (Albrow, 1992). Just as
motivation theory and research have ignored how workers' moods and emotions
influence their choice of work activities, levels of effort, and levels of
persistence in the face of obstacles (George & Brief, 1996), leadership theory
and research have not adequately considered how leaders' moods and emotions
influence their effectiveness as leaders. Tw o preliminary studies suggest
that leaders' feelings may play an important role in leadership. George and
Bettenhausen (1990) found that the extent to which leaders of existing work
groups experienced positive moods was positively related to levels of
prosocial behavior performed by group members and negatively related to group
turnover rates. George (1995) found that work groups led by sales managers who
tended to experience positive moods at work provided higher quality customer
service than groups led by managers who did not tend to experience positive
moods at work. While these two studies help to fill a gap in the leadership
literature, in and of themselves, they do not illuminate the role of moods and
emotions in the leadership process per se but rather suggest that feelings may
be an important factor to consider.
The growing body of literature exploring the role of moods and emotions in
human and organizational affairs (e.g. Fineman, 1993; Forgas, 1995) suggests
that, rather than being simply an additional factor to consider, feelings play
a much more central role in the leadership process. The purpose of this paper
is to present a framework describing what that role might be. First, however,
it is useful to sample the literature and research findings attesting to the
central role of feelings in human affairs.
The role of feelings in human affairs
A growing body of literature suggests that moods and emotions play a central
role in cognitive processes and behavior. What distinguishes moods from
emotions is their intensity. Moods are pervasive and generalized feeling
states that are not tied to the events or circumstances which may have caused
the mood in the first place (Morris, 1989). Moods are relatively low intensity
feelings which do not interrupt ongoing activities (Forgas, 1992a). Emotions
are high intensity feelings that are triggered by specific stimuli (either
internal or external to the individual), demand attention, and interrupt
cognitive processes and behaviors (Forgas, 1992a; Morris, 1989; Simon, 1982).
Emotions tend to be more fleeting than moods because of their intensity.
Emotions often feed into moods so that, once the intensity of an emotion
subsides because the individual has cognitively or behaviorally dealt with its
cause, the emotion lingers on in the form of a less intense feeling or mood.
Hence, for example, the intense anger th at a leader might experience upon
learning that he or she was deceived by a follower resulting in a lost
opportunity subsides once the leader has recovered from the shock and decides
how to deal with the situation. However, the anger lives on for the rest of
the day in the form of a negative mood which colors the leader's interactions
and thought processes.
Feelings have been shown to influence the judgments that people make, material
recalled from memory, attributions for success and failure, creativity, and
inductive and deductive reasoning. When people are in positive moods, for
example, their perceptions and evaluations are likely to be more favorable,
they are more prone to remember positive information, they are more
self-assured, they are more likely to take credit for successes and avoid
blame for failures, and they are more helpful to others (e.g. Bower, 1981;
Cunningham et al., 1980; Forgas et al., 1984, 1990; George, 1991; Isen et al.,
1976, 1978; Rosenhan et al., 1981). Positive moods have been found to enhance
flexibility on categorization tasks and facilitate creativity and inductive
reasoning (Isen et al., 1985, 1987). Conversely, negative moods may foster
deductive reasoning and more critical and comprehensive evaluations (Salovey
et al., 1993; Sinclair & Mark, 1992).
While a stereotype of the 'rational' decision maker is a person who can set
aside their personal feelings and coolly calculate the best course of action
to deal with a problem or opportunity, neurological findings suggest that
feelings are necessary to make good decisions (Damasio, 1994; Goleman, 1995).
Neurological research on patients who have had brain tumors removed and
subsequent damage to sectors of the brain responsible for moods and emotions
has yielded a perplexing pattern of results. Some of these patients show no
deficits in memory, intelligence, verbal ability, and numerical ability. Given
the nature of their injuries, however, they tend to be emotionally flat. For
example, they don't seem upset when recounting their own personal injury,
problems, and disappointments or when viewing pictures that induce negative
feelings in people without any brain injuries. Elliot, a former attorney, seen
by neurologist Damasio, was one such patient. After removal of his brain
tumor, Elliot continued to score ei ther at average or above-average levels on
measures of intelligence and other cognitive abilities. However, his life fell
apart after his injury. He had trouble regularly attending work, when at work
had a hard time getting things done, and eventually lost his job and got
divorced. After much research and analysis and comparison with other patients
with similar kinds of injuries, Damasio concluded that Elliot's lack of
feeling left him unable to make decisions. On problem-solving tasks, for
example, Elliot could come up with multiple viable solutions and the pros and
cons for each, yet could not choose among them. Feelings help us to make
choices and decide among options and, once devoid of feelings, people can
'rationally' assess pros and cons of choices ranging from what's the best time
to schedule a doctor's appointment to what type of career to pursue, yet may
never be able to make a wise choice from the alternatives generated (Damasio,
1994; Goleman, 1995). While very intense emotions can certainly inter fere
with effective decision making, as Damasio (1994: 53) suggests, 'reduction in
emotion may constitute an equally important source of irrational behavior.'
This brief sampling of findings is indicative of a wider body of literature
which, though in diverse areas such as neuropsychology, social psychology, and
organizational behavior, point to a consistent conclusion: feelings are
intimately connected to the human experience. Feelings are intricately bound
up in the ways that people think, behave, and make decisions.
In this regard, Forgas' (1995) affect infusion model (AIM) provides a useful
framework for understanding the conditions under which affect is most likely
to influence cognition, judgment, and decision making. More specifically and
counterintuitively, the AIM suggests that affect is particularly likely to
influence judgments during substantive processing. Substantive processing
occurs when decision makers are faced with a complex task in need of extensive
and constructive information processing, and when ambiguity and uncertainty
exist, new information needs to be assimilated, and decision makers desire to
make accurate judgments and good decisions (Fiedler, 1991; Forgas, 1992b,
1993, 1994, 1995). Affect priming is an important mechanism through which
affect infuses judgments during substantive processing. Affect priming refers
to the selective attention to, encoding, and retrieval of information
congruent with one's current affective state as well as the tendency to make
mood-congruent interpretations and associations (e.g. Bower, 1981, 1991; Clark
& Waddell, 1983; Forgas, 199 5; Forgas & Bower, 1987; Isen, 1984, 1987; Singer
& Salovey, 1988).
Additionally, the AIM model suggests that affect is likely to influence
judgments when decision makers resort to a heuristic processing strategy.
Heuristic processing tends to take place when decision makers are making
judgments that are simple or commonplace and not very personally relevant,
there is little pressure to be detailed or accurate, and there are other
demands on current information processing (Forgas, 1995). Under these
conditions, one's current affective state may be used as a heuristic such that
decision makers deduce their judgment from their current affective state or
how they feel at the time the judgment is being made (Clore & Parrott, 1991;
Forgas, 1995; Schwarz & Bless, 1991).
Feelings and leadership
The literature briefly described above is representative of a much wider body
of knowledge which suggests that feelings serve multiple purposes in human
affairs. As will be demonstrated below, it is likely that feelings play an
important role in leadership. While George and Bettenhausen (1990) and George
(1995) investigated some of the potential beneficial consequences of leader
positive mood, it is likely that a diversity of feelings (both emotions and
moods) influences leadership effectiveness. Negative moods, for example,
foster systematic and careful information processing (Sinclair, 1988; Sinclair
& Mark, 1992) and may be advantageous when leaders are dealing with complex
problems in which errors carry high risk. As another example, relatively
intense negative emotions may appropriately redirect a leader's attention to
an issue in need of immediate attention (Frigda, 1988). For example, a leader
who experiences anger upon learning of a pattern of covert sexual harassment
in a department might be well ser ved by this emotional response. The anger
signals to the leader (Frigda, 1988) that his or her attention must be
redirected from new product development to confronting the sexual harassment
problem and improving the organization's efforts to eliminate harassment.
By now, it may be apparent that it is not too difficult to construct scenarios
in which leaders would be well served by the experience of a variety of types
of moods and emotions. Moreover, one can also construct scenarios in which a
leader's effectiveness may be hampered by the experience of certain moods and
emotions. Leaders who experience anger frequently may have a difficult time
building good relationships with followers and engendering their trust (Jones
& George, 1998). Similarly, a leader who frequently experiences positive moods
on the job may fail to notice and attend to performance shortfalls that are
less than apparent.
Hence, this inquiry into the role of feelings in leadership is not bent on
determining the 'right' or 'effective' moods and emotions that facilitate
leadership effectiveness. Leaders are obviously human beings with the full
range of moods and emotions potentially available to them. Both positive and
negative moods and emotions serve numerous functions in people's lives.
Likewise, both positive and negative moods and emotions can sometimes be the
cause of human dysfunctions.
This paper does seek to explore, however, whether effective leaders possess
certain emotional capabilities just as they may possess certain cognitive
capabilities (Bass, 1990; Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; Yukl, 1998). Moods and
emotions play an extensive role in thought processes and behavior (Bower,
1981; Bower & Cohen, 1982; Clark & Isen, 1982; Forgas, 1995; George & Brief,
1992; Isen & Baron, 1991; Isen & Shalker, 1982; Isen et al., 1978; Leventhal &
Tomarken, 1986; Rosenhan et al., 1981; Teasdale & Fogarty, 1979) and the same
moods and emotions can result in both improved or impaired effectiveness
depending upon multiple factors including the index of effectiveness (for
example, a quick, heuristic-based response vs. a careful consideration of
alternatives) (Salovey et al., 1993; Sinclair & Mark, 1992). Moreover,
research suggests that people can and do take steps to manage their own and
others' moods and emotions (Mayer et al., 1991; Salovey & Mayer, 1989-90).
Might it be that some leaders have superior mo od/emotion capabilities which
allow them to use and benefit from the variety of feelings they experience on
the job? Might it also be that these capabilities enable leaders to influence,
and develop effective interpersonal relationships with, their followers?
Interpersonal relationships are laden with moods and emotions as is effective
These mood/emotion capabilities have been addressed by emotional intelligence
theory and research. In the next section, I briefly describe emotional
intelligence, and the theory and research which support its role in human
affairs. Next, I describe how emotional intelligence may be a key contributor
to leadership effectiveness and outline how different aspects of emotional
intelligence facilitate the varied activities central to effective leadership.
While emotional intelligence has been linked previously to specific leader
behaviors (Megerian & Sosik, 1996), this paper adopts a broader approach and
explores the multitude of ways in which emotional intelligence may contribute
to leadership effectiveness.
Additionally, I would like to point out that earlier leadership approaches,
and in particular the trait approach, also have described certain leadership
skills or traits that may either be subsumed under or may partially overlap
with emotional intelligence (for reviews, see Bass, 1990; Yukl, 1998).
Moreover, while the term 'emotional intelligence' has been coined relatively
recently, it bears some resemblance and partially overlaps with earlier
concepts such as social intelligence (Legree, 1995; Sternberg & Smith, 1985;
Wong et al., 1995). However, as Mayer, Salovey and Caruso (in press) suggest,
emotional intelligence is theoretically preferable to earlier constructs such
as social intelligence because it is more focused on affect per se. Emotional
intelligence includes internal, private feelings that influence functioning
which may not necessarily be linked to social skills and also focuses
exclusively on emotional skills rather than confounding them with social or
political knowledge (Mayer et al., in pre ss). Hence, as will become clearer
below, emotional intelligence captures capabilities and skills in the emotion
domain to a greater extent than prior constructs.
Emotional intelligence is 'the ability to perceive emotions, to access and
generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and
emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote
emotional and intellectual growth' (Mayer & Salovey, 1997: 5). Prior to
continuing, it should be pointed out that the term 'emotional' in emotional
intelligence is used broadly to refer to moods as well as emotions. So as to
be consistent with the emotional intelligence literature, in the remainder of
this paper, 'emotions' will be used to refer to both emotions and moods.
Emotional intelligence essentially describes the ability to effectively join
emotions and reasoning, using emotions to facilitate reasoning and reasoning
intelligently about emotions (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). In other words,
emotional intelligence taps into the extent to which people's cognitive
capabilities are informed by emotions and the extent to which emotions are
cognitively managed. Additionally, it should be pointed out that emotional
intelligence is distinct from predispositions to experience certain kinds of
emotions captured by the personality traits of positive and negative
affectivity (George, 1996; Tellegen, 1985).
There are at least four major aspects of emotional intelligence: the appraisal
and expression of emotion, the use of emotion to enhance cognitive processes
and decision making, knowledge about emotions, and management of emotions
(Table 1). While each of these aspects of emotional intelligence are quite
involved, here I provide you with a brief overview of some of their key
elements. This discussion draws from the work of Mayer, Salovey, and their
colleagues (e.g. Mayer & Salovey, 1993, 1995, 1997; Mayer et al., 1990;
Salovey & Mayer, 1989-90, 1994; Salovey et al., 1993, 1995).
The appraisal and expression of emotion
Appraisal and expression of emotion pertain to both the self and other people.
People differ in terms of the degree to which they are aware of the emotions
they experience and the degree to which they can verbally and non-verbally
express these emotions to others. Accurately appraising emotions facilitates
the use of emotional input in forming judgments and making decisions. The
accurate expression of emotion ensures that people are able to effectively
communicate with others to meet their needs and accomplish their goals or
Some people are actually reluctant or ambivalent about expressing emotions.
Two types of ambivalence have been identified (King & Emmons, 1991). Some
ambivalent people actually want to express their emotions, agonize over doing
it, and fail to (Emmons & Colby, 1995). Others do express their emotions but
then regret doing so. Both types of ambivalence have been linked to anxiety,
depression, some psychiatric disorders, lower well-being, and less social
support (Emmons & Colby, 1995; Katz & Campbell, 1994; King & Emmons, 1990,
1991). At a general level, ambivalence over expression of emotions can hamper
an individual from developing beneficial interpersonal relationships in life.
People also differ in terms of their ability to accurately express emotions.
Some people, referred to as alexithymics, cannot appraise their own emotions
and are unable to communicate their feelings using language (Apfel & Sifneos,
1979; Krystal et al., 1986; Sifneos, 1972, 1973; Taylor, 1984; Thayer-Singer
1977). Alexithymics are vulnerable to a variety of psychological problems
which may result from their inability to express their feelings (Salovey et
al., 1993). Individuals also differ in their ability to express emotions
nonverbally with facial expressions and body language (Buck, 1979, 1984;
Friedman et al., 1980).
Appraising and expressing the emotions of others is the ability to accurately
determine the emotions other people are experiencing and the ability to
accurately convey or communicate these feelings. Much of the appraisal of
emotion in others comes from nonverbal cues. When people tell each other how
they are feeling, appraisal is relatively straightforward. However, sometimes
the emotions people claim to have are not actually the ones they are
experiencing and at other times people are reluctant to express their
emotions. People differ in the extent to which they can accurately appraise
emotions in others, particularly from facial expressions (Buck, 1984; Campbell
et al., 1971).
Related to the appraisal and expression of emotion in others is the concept of
empathy, the ability to understand and experience another person's feelings or
emotions (Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972; Wispe, 1986). Empathy, a contributor to
emotional intelligence, is an important skill which enables people to provide
useful social support and maintain positive interpersonal relationships
(Batson, 1987; Kessler et al., 1985; Thoits, 1986).
The use of emotion to enhance cognitive processes and decision making
Emotional intelligence does not only entail being aware of one's own emotions,
but also using these emotions in functional ways. First, emotions can be
useful in terms of directing attention to pressing concerns and signalling
what should be the focus of attention (Frigda, 1988; George & Brief, 1996).
Second, emotions can be used in choosing among options and making decisions;
being able to anticipate how one would feel if certain events took place can
help decision makers choose among multiple options (Damasio, 1994). Third,
emotions can be used to facilitate certain kinds of cognitive processes. As
mentioned earlier, positive moods can facilitate creativity, integrative
thinking, and inductive reasoning, and negative moods can facilitate attention
to detail, detection of errors and problems, and careful information
processing (Isen et al., 1985, 1987; Salovey et al., 1993; Sinclair & Mark,
1992). Finally, shifts in emotions can lead to more flexible planning, the
generation of multiple alternatives, and a b roadened perspective on problems
(Mayer, 1986; Salovey & Mayer 1989-90). When people are in positive moods, for
example, they tend to be more optimistic and perceive that positive events are
more likely and negative events are less likely; when people are in negative
moods they tend to be more pessimistic and perceive that positive events are
less likely and negative events are more likely (Bower, 1981; Salovey &
Birnbaum, 1989). People in positive moods also tend to have heightened
perceptions of their future success and self-efficacy (Forgas et al., 1990;
Kavanagh & Bower, 1985). By evaluating the same opportunities and problems in
varying mood states, a broad range of options will be brought to mind and
considered. And, as you will see below, emotional intelligence entails using
emotions for these purposes.
Knowledge about emotions
Emotional knowledge is concerned with understanding both the determinants and
consequences of moods and emotions, and how they evolve and change over time.
People differ in their awareness and understanding of how different
situations, events, people, and other stimuli generate emotions. A leader who
is surprised when followers' initial reaction to an announced restructuring
(even with a guarantee of no layoffs) is fear and anxiety is not knowledgeable
about the determinants of emotions. Over time, emotions and moods change --
fear and anxiety might evolve into a negative mood and then to apathy or to a
more intense state of agitation. While emotions can progress in different ways
-- enthusiasm can lead to further levels of excitation or to a less intense
sense of general well-being -- some people are especially attuned to these
kinds of progressions and their causes.
Appreciation of the consequences of moods and emotions also varies across
individuals. Some people have a rudimentary understanding of how they (and
other people) are influenced by feelings and use this knowledge in functional
ways. A leader in a negative mood who decides to delay meeting with followers
to discuss upcoming changes in need of their support until they are feeling
better intuitively realizes how their ability to enthusiastically communicate
information about the changes and garner their followers' support is
influenced by their current feelings. Similarly, a home buyer in a positive
mood who sees a house they really like but forestalls making a final decision
until they return to the house in a couple of days in a different 'frame of
mind' possesses an understanding of how their appraisal of the house may be
colored by their good mood. On the other hand, some people are oblivious to
the effects of feelings. A stereotype of obliviousness to the effects of
feelings is the family member who has ha d a hard day at work, comes home in a
bad mood, and proceeds to get into arguments with spouse and children. This
family member, however, never realizes how their bad mood is contributing to
the disagreements and, instead, berates everyone else for their presumed
failings, intensifying their own bad mood as well as the disagreements.
Management of emotions
Emotional intelligence also includes a more proactive dimension with regards
to feelings: the management of one's own and other people's moods and
emotions. Research has found that people strive to maintain positive moods and
alleviate negative moods (e.g. Clark & Isen, 1982; Isen & Levin, 1972; Mayer
et al., 1991; Mischel et al., 1973; Morris & Reilly, 1987); emotional
intelligence captures individual differences in the extent to which one is
able to successfully manage moods and emotions in these ways. Management of
one's own moods and emotions also relies on knowledge and consideration of the
determinants, appropriateness, and malleability of moods and emotions. This
regulation entails a reflective process, which has been referred to as the
meta-regulation of mood (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). Essentially, emotional
intelligence encompasses individual differences in the ability to accurately
reflect on one's moods and manage them (Salovey et al., 1995).
Emotional intelligence entails not just being able to manage one's own
feelings, but also being able to manage the moods and emotions of others.
Being able to excite and enthuse other people or make them feel cautious and
wary is an important interpersonal skill and vehicle of social influence
(Wasielewski, 1985). In order to be able to manage the moods and emotions of
others, people must be able to appraise and express emotions, effectively use
emotions, and be knowledgeable about emotions. Hence, the other three
dimensions of emotional intelligence described above contribute to leaders
being able to influence and manage the emotions of their followers. 
These four aspects of emotional intelligence are related. For example, as
mentioned above, awareness of emotions is necessary for their management. As
another example, empathy may contribute to being able to manage emotions in
others. Consistent with this reasoning, preliminary research suggests that the
four aspects of emotional intelligence are positively correlated with each
other (e.g. Mayer et al., 1990, in press; Mayer & Geher, 1996; Mayer &
Salovey, 1997). Additionally, and as mentioned earlier, while emotional
intelligence is a relatively new construct, it has roots in other constructs
such as social intelligence which have a relatively long history (Ford &
Tisak, 1983; Sternberg & Smith, 1985; Walker & Foley, 1973). However,
emotional intelligence captures more of the essence of the active and
purposeful integration of feelings and thoughts for effective functioning than
these earlier constructs.
Emotional intelligence and effective leadership
While emotional intelligence can lead to enhanced functioning in a variety of
aspects of life such as achievement and close relationships (Goleman, 1995;
Salovey & Mayer, 1989-90), I propose that it may play a particularly important
role in leadership effectiveness. To clarify this role, I propose how the four
aspects of emotional intelligence described above -- appraisal and expression
of emotion, use of emotion to enhance cognitive processing and decision
making, knowledge about emotions, and management of emotions -- contribute to
In order to explore the implications of emotional intelligence for effective
leadership, it is necessary to identify the fundamental nature of effective
leadership. This is no easy task given the plethora of leadership theories,
approaches, and empirical findings. Fortunately, several recent syntheses of
the leadership literature have been offered which are consistent in terms of
their descriptions of effective leadership. Based on the syntheses of Yukl
(1998), Locke (1991), and Conger and Kanungo (1998), as well as the larger
leadership literature, specific elements of leadership effectiveness can be
identified. Note that, while no specific theory of leadership is entailed in
these elements, the elements themselves have roots in a variety of theoretical
traditions. As described by these authors (i.e. Conger & Kanungo, 1998; Locke,
1991; Yukl, 1998), effective leadership includes the following essential
* development of a collective sense of goals and objectives and how to go
about achieving them;
* instilling in others knowledge and appreciation of the importance of work
activities and behaviors;
* generating and maintaining excitement, enthusiasm, confidence, and optimism
in an organization as well as cooperation and trust;
* encouraging flexibility in decision making and change;
* establishing and maintaining a meaningful identity for an organization.
Below, I consider how emotional intelligence may help leaders carry out these
activities and therefore contribute to leader effectiveness.
Development of a collective sense of goals and objectives and how to go about
The goals and objectives considered here are major, overarching goals that are
commonly referred to as the leader's vision for the organization (e.g. Conger
& Kanungo, 1998; Locke, 1991). Emotional intelligence may contribute to
leaders developing a compelling vision for their groups or organizations in a
number of ways. First, leaders may use their emotions to enhance their
information processing of the challenges, threats, issues, and opportunities
facing their organizations. Leaders are often faced with a large amount of
information characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity; out of this
information, they need to chart a course for their groups or organizations. In
terms of the AIM model (Forgas, 1995), leaders are likely to engage in
substantive processing as they seek to determine the direction for their
organizations. They are dealing with complex information with high uncertainty
and the desire to be accurate. Recall that the AIM model suggests that current
affective state is likely to influence judgme nts resulting from substantive
processing through the mechanism of affect priming.
Research linking positive moods to creativity suggests that when leaders are
in positive moods they may be more creative (Isen et al., 1987) and, hence,
more likely to come up with a compelling vision that contrasts with existing
conditions. For example, people in positive moods have been found to be more
integrative, use broader categories, and approach problems and categorization
more flexibly (Isen & Baron, 1991; Isen & Daubman, 1984; Isen et al., 1985;
Murray et al., 1990). Creating a compelling vision for an organization can be
an exercise in creativity, positive thinking, and flexibility and such an
exercise will be facilitated by positive moods (Isen et al., 1985; Murray et
al., 1990). Leaders who are high on emotional intelligence will be better able
to take advantage of and use their positive moods and emotions to envision
major improvements in their organizations' functioning.
Leaders high on emotional intelligence also are likely to have knowledge about
the fact that their positive moods may cause them to be overly optimistic.
Hence, in order to ensure that they are being realistic and appropriately
critical, they may be more likely to revisit their judgments when in a more
neutral or negative mood to ensure a careful consideration of all the issues
involved. Such leaders also are likely to be better able to repair negative
moods arising from any number of sources that may limit flexibility and
creativity, and, more generally, use meta-mood processes to manage their moods
and emotions in functional ways (Mayer et al., 1991).
Importantly, leaders need not only to come up with a compelling vision, but
also to effectively communicate it throughout the organization in such a way
that it does come to be shared and is 'collective'. By accurately appraising
how their followers currently feel, relying on their knowledge of emotions to
understand why they feel this way, and influencing followers' emotions so that
they are receptive to and supportive of the leader's goals or objectives for
the organization and proposed ways to achieve them, leaders may help to ensure
that their vision is shared or collective. For example, a leader who is high
on emotional intelligence may act on emotional knowledge which suggests that
followers are more likely to experience positive emotions and be supportive of
the leader's goals and objectives when the leader expresses confidence in
followers and serves to elevate their levels of self-efficacy (Gardner &
Instilling in others knowledge and appreciation of the importance of work
activities and behaviors
In order to instill in others an appreciation of the importance of work
activities, leaders need to ensure that followers are aware of problems and
major issues facing an organization as well as potential opportunities while
at the same time raising their confidence in their own abilities to
successfully overcome problems, meet challenges, and seize opportunities.
Leaders need to understand and influence followers' emotions such that they
are aware of the serious nature of problems yet, given the leader's vision,
are enthusiastic about resolving the problems and feel optimistic about
personal contributions. Leaders who are high on emotional intelligence are
more knowledgeable of, and adept at managing, emotions in these subtle kinds
of ways. Moreover, they are more likely to intuitively possess and act on
meta-mood regulation knowledge such as the fact that people feel better when
gains or positive events are presented in terms of improvements over previous
conditions (Aronson & Linder, 1965; Salovey et al., 1993).
Generating and maintaining excitement, enthusiasm, confidence, and optimism in
an organization as well as cooperation and trust
In order for leaders to generate and maintain excitement and enthusiasm, they
must be able to appraise how their followers feel, and be knowledgeable about
how to influence these feelings. They must also be able to anticipate how
followers will react to different circumstances, events, and changes, and
effectively manage these reactions. Leaders need to manage emotions such that
followers are aware of problems yet, given the collective vision, are
confident about resolving problems and feel optimistic about the efficacy of
their personal contributions.
Moreover, leaders need to be able to distinguish between the emotions their
followers are actually experiencing, their 'real' feelings, and the emotions
they express. Research on the expression of emotion has documented that people
often deliberately control their expressed emotions for a variety of reasons
including the existence of display rules (Ekman, 1973) which dictate which
emotions should and should not be expressed in a given social context
(Hochschild, 1983; Rafaeli & Sutton, 1987, 1989). Effective leaders need to be
able to distinguish between, for example, excitement and enthusiasm that are
faked versus excitement and enthusiasm that are genuinely felt. When the
excitement and enthusiasm are faked, a leader needs to determine why as well
as try to instill real feelings of excitement and enthusiasm. Through their
ability to appraise other people's emotions, their knowledge of emotions, and
their ability to manage emotions, leaders who are high on emotional
intelligence are likely to be better able to decipher when expressed emotions
are genuine, understand why they may be faked, and influence followers to
experience genuine excitement, enthusiasm, confidence, and optimism rather
than fake these feelings.
Leadership positions in organizations often entail a very hectic work pace
with multiple and changing demands and high levels of stress (Kanter, 1983;
Mintzberg, 1973). Not only do leaders have to meet these multiple demands, but
they also have to constructively resolve conflicts, and generate and maintain
a sense of cooperation and trust. Emotional intelligence contributes to what
Epstein and colleagues refer to as constructive thinking or the ability to
solve problems with a minimum of stress (Epstein, 1990; Katz & Epstein, 1991).
While constructive thinking may facilitate problem solving in the workplace in
general (Epstein & Meier, 1989), it may be especially important for leaders.
Constructive thinking can lead to the generation of creative ideas to settle
disagreements, arrive at win-win solutions to problems, and ensure cooperation
and trust throughout an organization. Because leaders who are high on
emotional intelligence are better able to understand and manage their own
emotions, they may be more l ikely to engage in constructive thinking to build
and maintain high levels of cooperation and trust.
Finally, leaders who are high on emotional intelligence may instill in their
organizations a sense of enthusiasm, excitement, and optimism as well as an
atmosphere of cooperation and trust through their being able to develop high
quality interpersonal relationships with their followers. High quality
interpersonal relationships between leaders and their followers have been
documented to produce numerous advantages for organizations, leaders, and
followers (Gerstner & Day, 1997; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). Recognizing,
appropriately responding to, and influencing followers' emotions is necessary
for leaders to develop high quality interpersonal relationships with them
(Salovey & Mayer, 1989-90) and positive affect is a critical ingredient for
high levels of trust (Jones & George, 1998).
Encouraging flexibility in decision making and change
When leaders know and manage their emotions, they may be able to use them to
improve their decision making. First, they can use them as signals to direct
their attention to pressing concerns in need of immediate attention, given the
many demands they face (Easterbrook, 1959; Frigda, 1988; Mandler, 1975; Simon,
1982). Emotions (linked to their causes) can serve as important information to
use in prioritizing these demands. Moreover, when a leader realizes that
emotions generated by low priority demands are interfering with more pressing
demands, the leader's ability to actively manage the emotions (part of
emotional intelligence) will also facilitate effective decision making.
Second, emotions can provide leaders with information about problems and
opportunities (Schwarz, 1990; Schwarz & Clore, 1988). Leaders who accurately
perceive their emotions and can determine their causes can determine when
emotions are linked to opportunities, problems, or proposed courses of action,
and use those emotions as information in the process of making decisions
(Schwarz, 1990; Schwarz & Clore, 1988). By knowing their emotions and their
roots, leaders can effectively use emotional input in decision making.
Additionally, when a leader identifies an experienced emotion as irrelevant to
a decision, they can take steps to discount and manage the emotion so that it
will not be a source of error in decision making. Emotional intelligence,
therefore, enables leaders to both effectively use emotions in decision making
and manage emotions which interfere with effective decision making.
When leaders know and manage their emotions, they may be better able to
flexibly approach problems, consider alternative scenarios, and avoid rigidity
effects in decision making. Intuitively, and through meta-mood regulation,
they may realize that different moods and emotions cause them to view issues
differently and consider different types of options or alternatives. As
mentioned earlier, the generation of multiple points of view and options can
be aided by changes in moods and emotions (Mayer, 1986). When leaders are
experiencing positive moods and emotions, their cognitive processes and
considered alternatives will be different than when they are experiencing
negative moods and emotions. For example, when leaders realize, through
meta-mood regulation (Salovey et al., 1995), that a current negative mood is
causing them to be overly pessimistic, they may deliberately revisit a
proposed course of action in a more positive mood state to gain a richer, more
flexible point of view. Similarly, meta-mood regulat ion may cause leaders who
are optimistic and excited about a course of action due, in part, to a more
pervasive positive mood state, to reconsider the course of action in a more
neutral or negative mood state to more critically evaluate its pros and cons.
This increased flexibility deriving from emotional intelligence may also
contribute to effective leadership in another way. Effective leaders are able
to identify relationships among the many issues they are confronted with (Yukl
& Van Fleet, 1992), enabling them to respond to multiple issues simultaneously
(Isenberg, 1984; McCall & Kaplan, 1985; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992). Flexible
thinking arising out of emotional intelligence facilitates seeing connections
among divergent information, and thus may help leaders see how issues are
Additionally, emotional intelligence may contribute to a leader's ability to
successfully implement changes in an organization. As Wasielewski (1985: 213)
suggests, when leaders understand and are able to influence their followers'
emotions, they may be able:
to get followers to reassess the feelings they experience and the manner in
which they display them. Based on the ability to do this, a leader may then be
able to substitute an alternative view of the world that resolves this
emotional ambiguity; for example, a leader may point out that anger is not an
adequate emotional response to existing injustices if the group is interested
in effecting real change. The leader might then propose an alternative view of
the present situation, along with an appropriate set of alternative emotions
more suitable to achieving the desired goal.
Emotional intelligence in general, and the extent to which a leader accurately
perceives and is able to influence followers' emotions in particular, captures
the emotion-related abilities or skills which Wasielewski (1985) suggests
result in a leader's ability to make major changes. Some people have a
difficult time determining how other people feel. Other people have a
difficult time appropriately responding to others' feelings. Both types of
people would be very unlikely to be able to spearhead major changes in an
organization. On the other hand, people who can accurately assess how others
feel and respond to, and sometimes alter, these feelings in productive ways
are much more likely to be able to effectively overcome resistance to change
and transform an organization in significant ways. Responding to and altering
others' emotions necessitates that leaders possess accurate knowledge about
the causes of emotions and their change over time, an important aspect of
Establishing and maintaining a meaningful identity for an organization
An organization's identity derives from and is a consequence of its culture
(Trice & Beyer, 1993). Through an organization's culture, organizational
members develop a collective identity embodied with meaning. In this regard,
an increasingly important leadership activity pertains to the development and
expression of organizational culture (e.g. Alvesson, 1992; Trice & Beyer,
1993). Organizational culture is embodied in relatively shared ideologies
containing important beliefs, norms, and values (Trice & Beyer, 1993). Ongoing
technological advances suggest that work, in general, will become less routine
in the future (House, 1995). Less routine work is harder to monitor and
control directly and, hence, organizations may be increasingly dependent upon
culture as a mechanism of influence. The development and expression of culture
and organizational identity is, thus, likely to only increase in importance
for effective leadership.
Values, and to a lesser extent norms and beliefs, are emotion-laden. As
conceptions of what is desirable or sought after (Rokeach, 1973), values evoke
and appeal to emotions. As described earlier, it is difficult, if not
impossible, to determine what is desired or preferred in an emotional vacuum
(Damasio, 1994; Goleman, 1995). Norms, especially internalized norms, are also
value-laden in that positive feelings accompany conformity and negative
feelings accompany deviance. Reaffirmations of norms also evoke emotions
stemming from a feeling of 'rightness' of behavior. Beliefs about how things
are also are intimately connected to emotions in that it is impossible to
separate feelings from beliefs and both have the potential to influence each
other. Firmly held beliefs are often firmly held because of their emotional
content and appeal. Consistent with this analysis, Trice and Beyer (1993: 33)
suggest that the content or substance of organizational culture resides in
ideologies which are 'shared, relatively coh erently interrelated sets of
emotionally charged beliefs, values, and norms that bind some people together
and help them to make sense of their worlds'.
Trice and Beyer (1993) suggest that cultures are infused with emotions and the
allegiance to and identification with cultures stem from people's emotional
needs rather than from a more 'rational' or instrumental perspective.
Violation of norms and values in a culture results in strong emotional
reactions and cultures actually provide organizational members with socially
acceptable ways to express their emotions.
Management of organizational culture is thus, in a sense, management of
emotions (Van Maanen & Kunda, 1989). It necessitates that leaders are able to
instill in followers a collective sense of an organization's important norms
and values. In order to identify these norms and values, leaders must be
attuned to their own and their followers' feelings, and express and embrace
norms and values in a way that will appeal to and generate strong feelings.
Norms and values must be infused with feelings and emotions that support them,
and leaders can be instrumental in this process for their own motivation and
sensemaking, for the motivation and sensemaking of their followers, and to
build and maintain a meaningful collective identity for the organization.
Some of the major ways that culture is manifested in organizations is through
cultural forms including symbols, language, narratives, and practices (Trice &
Beyer, 1993). Cultural forms help organizational members to make sense of and
identify with organizational reality, and to manage and regulate their
emotions (Trice & Beyer, 1993). Cultural forms also are a means of expressing
emotions in organizations and the effective use of cultural forms hinges on
their ability to generate emotions (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1995; Harris &
Sutton, 1986). As Ashforth and Humphrey (1995: 111) suggest, 'the success of
symbolic management is largely dependent upon the evocation of emotion'.
Leaders' effective use of cultural forms is contingent upon many of the
aforementioned aspects of emotional intelligence -- being aware of feelings,
knowing the causes of feelings and how they change over time, being able to
express feelings, being able to induce feelings in others, and even having the
tacit knowledge of how and why emotions are tied up with cultural forms.
Whether in drama and literature or in organizations, symbols and stories
appeal to and often operate through emotions.
The present analysis suggests that, at a minimum, emotions and emotional
intelligence are worthy of consideration in the leadership domain. Emotional
intelligence has the potential to contribute to effective leadership in
multiple ways, some of which have been illuminated in this paper. At this
point, a skeptic might ask, 'But why is this so relevant to leadership per
se?'. The special relevance to leadership revolves around the fact that
leadership is an emotion-laden process, both from a leader and a follower
Clearly, what is needed now is empirical research which tests the ideas
proposed in this paper. Given the complexities of the issues involved, both
qualitative and quantitative methodologies hold promise for exploring the ways
in which emotional intelligence may contribute to leader effectiveness, as
theorized in this paper. Meaningful quantitative investigations could take
place in both field and laboratory settings as well as through the use of
management simulations. Additionally, given the stage of development of
theorizing and research on emotional intelligence, I would like to point out
that there are several measures of emotional intelligence that have been
developed and could be used to measure the emotional intelligence levels of
research participants (e.g. Mayer et al., 1997; Salovey et al., 1995).
A caveat concerning the current analysis is that it has focused primarily on
leaders and it has been argued that leadership theory and research would
benefit from consideration of a more follower-centered approach (e.g. Meindl,
1990, 1993; Meindl et al., 1985). In this regard, the study of emotional
intelligence and leadership would benefit from the consideration of emotional
intelligence in followers and its effects on the leadership process.
Additionally, and from a symbolic interactionist perspective, it would be
interesting to explore how interactions between leaders and followers result
in the creation and management of emotions in a work setting.
All in all, investigating how leaders' capabilities in the emotion domain or
their emotional intelligence contribute to their effectiveness certainly seems
worthy of future empirical research and theorizing. Hopefully, the current
analysis has provided researchers with some guidance in this regard.
I would like to thank Arthur Brief and three anonymous reviewers for their
very helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
Jennifer M. George received her PhD in management and organizational behavior
from New York University and is the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management
and Professor of Psychology in the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of
Management at Rice University. Her research interests include affect, mood,
and emotion in the workplace, emotional intelligence, personality influences,
creativity, groups and teams, prosocial behavior and customer service, values
and work-life linkages, and stress and well-being.
(1.) In asserting that emotional intelligence contributes to leaders being
able to manage the emotions of others, I by no means intend to imply that this
is a manipulative act or some kind of overt control. Rather, all that is being
suggested is that emotionally intelligent leaders are able to influence their
followers' emotions in ways that are functional for the followers and the
organization just as emotionally intelligent followers are able to influence
their leaders' emotions. Emotions are multiply determined and effective
leaders have some influence in this process. All kinds of people, situations,
and events have the potential to influence how one feels. Leaders who are high
on emotional intelligence understand this and also understand how to, for
example, dissipate anger that is getting out of control or lift sagging
spirits after a setback on an important project.
(2.) Importantly, I do not mean to imply that these are the only elements of
effective leadership or that this is an exhaustive list. Rather, the elements
that are focused on here figure prominently both in recent syntheses of the
leadership literature as well as in contemporary theorizing and research.
However, other elements of effective leadership could be identified.
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