The Brain and Emotional Intelligence — New Things I Learned

I had the good fortune of hearing Daniel Goleman and Dan Siegel speak at a recent Institute of Coaching Professional Association conference in Boston.  Mr. Goleman popularized emotional intelligence for managers and Dan Siegel, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s School of Medicine.  Both of them talked about the brain, and I wanted to tell you about some new things I learned.

  • Emotional intelligence is of even greater value among leadership positions vs. jobs of all kinds.  Compared with cognitive intelligence, which accounts for about a third of distinguishing competences among jobs of all kinds, EI acounts for 66%.  But when you segment the data on ‘leadership,’ the figures are now 15% and 85%.  Differences of this magnitude are not just significantly statistically; they remind us that base line intelligence is insufficient for career success, let alone significant accomplishment.
  • Brain activity and performance are related.  Mr. Goleman presented a graph showing that optimum performance is obtained when brain activity is midway between low and high.  At a low level, you’re bored; at a high level, you’re stressed.  He suggested that managers wanting to create an environment of optimal performance set clear goals, provide performance feedback and hand out stretch assignments.  (You might also want to see the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is quite readable.)
  • The ‘Competency Framework’ is composed of four interconnect cells:  Self-Awareness; Social Awareness; Relationship Management; and Self-Management.  What binds them together is the need to give your full presence and attention and to do good work that demonstrates excellence and competence.  And when it comes to interacting with others, new research demonstrates that in conversation we, as humans, stimulate the brains of the other person we’re speaking to.  “We stimulate each other — it helps us stay on the same page and causes social coordination.  Emotions move from the most powerful person outward,” said Mr. Goleman.  It feels good, he says, to be in a state of ‘non-verbal synchronicity.’
  • Because leadership styles affect the work climate, ‘it is best when a manager uses four or more styles from among these six’:
    1. Visionary:  provides long-term direction and vision
    2. Coaching:  develops employees for the long-term
    3. Affiliative:  creates harmony in work relationships
    4. Democratic:  builds commitment through collaboration
    5. Pacesetting: pushes to accomplish tasks
    6. Commanding: demands compliance

    Which of these six do you use?  I’ve rarely used #6.

  • Mr. Goleman ended his discussion on the competences of ‘social intelligence.’   While you might have seen these before, I’m including them here because they are worth remembering:
    • Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds?
    • Do you sense others’ feelings?
    • Do you appreciate the organization’s culture and values?
    • Do you understand unspoken norms?
    • Do you coach and mentor others?
    • Do you provide feedback helpful for development?
    • Do you solicit input from everyone?
    • Do you support all team members and encourage cooperation?
  • Dr. Siegel covered three areas entirely new to me that I’d like to tell you about.
    1. “The Healthy Mind Platter” consists of Sleep Time, Physical Time, Focus Time, Time In (reflect inwardly), Down Time, Play Time and Connecting Time.  To extract the most from these states, Dr. Siegel recommends ‘connecting with gratitude and generosity to people and the planet.  It is your responsibility to be playful.’
    2. A “Triangle of Well-Being” has at its three points:  Mind (includes ‘awareness’ and ‘subjective experience’), Relationships (‘context of our mental living’), and the ‘Embodied Brain’ (that regulates the flow of energy and information).  Inextricably linked, you cannot separate one from the other if you want to feel and be well.
    3. Being fully present and open means we can and will:
      • Thrive within uncertainty
      • Be open to possibilities
      • Cultivate human connections
      • Integrate and harmonize all these elements

What I learned reinforced my belief that the brain is not just a wonderful gift to behold; it also contains so much more potential than we can even imagine.  And that if we use it to connect with others, we’ll all be better off.



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  1. Once again Frank, you provide much food for thought. I think it is particularly timely as we approach year-end in many companies, the election, the annual request for introspection when writing one’s self-assessment. The only chink in my theory rests with the staggeringly different values companies put on factors like EI – let alone consider the more existential concepts proposed by Dr. Siegel. How often do we hear of organizational leaders ranking such qualities are essential and/or in need of development? As client interactions become increasingly transactional and less relational, so too do the expectations within companies. ‘Just get it done – right’, is the mantra. The good news? I think that the youngest generation coming into the workplace now highly values the concepts Goleman puts forth, are seeking employers with a value system and mission statement that embraces the measure and importance of its people as well as its services. It always heartens me to read about Goleman – I consider him an executive’s true guru..Thanks as always, Mimi

    • Frank Faeth says

      Hi Mimi,

      Maybe I should publish a blog on your comments — they’re more interesting than what I write about!

      I’m doing primary research on sabbaticals/leaves of absence for a group of women (the ‘Sabbatical Sisters’) who wrote Reboot Your Life. The intent was to learn the male perspective, though I ended up covering both sexes. What I’ve learned and will more fully analyze next week is that people are longing for a break, to learn something of significance, to get away recharge/regenerate. But what I also learned is less than half of them like what they do, yet would return to the same function after taking a sabbatical. My interpretation is that they like what they do but either not at the current moment and not in the current environment. I’m sure this effects performance and hence self-assessment.

      I also spoke to a professor (Srikumar Rao — check out his YouTube video and his program) who helps people ground themselves in happiness and contentment in a mature sustainable way. He told me his research revels that not since WWII has the workforce been so disengaged. So how do we increase productivity and job contentment despite disengagement and what is leading to the lack of job satisfaction.

      As you note, the millennials are taking a different view — they work to live, not live to work.

      All the best,

      • Emotional intelligence rllaey has to do with self-mastery; how you handle yourself’ Dr Goleman is making it clear that leadership is hardwork and the task is great but can be done. Lets not fall into the trap of looking at whats going on in terms of CEOs gone bad and think we’re doomed, we all have a part to play so many people in the world of work are excellent,..but when it comes to leadership your success depends on everyone elses being effective’ empathy and skill of interaction.

        • Frank Faeth says

          Thank you for your comment. Leadership is indeed very difficult to do well, and to do so consistently across a long period of time is even harder. I don’t agree though that ‘your success depends on everyone else being effective.’ Through your behavior — whether it be emotional intelligence or understanding different personality traits and adapting your style — you can extract the best from people and set a personal standard. If there are problems of interaction, your sympathetic reaction can effect how they behave, perhaps learning from you. My point is that all is not lost even in an environment that is less than the height of positive interactions.


    • running a hospital reirques leadership, so does leading a research team in any field, designing the next piece of technology that will aid human kind (animals/plants whatever) needs leadership too. I think what you are pointing out is a political phenomenon called realism where-by individuals use their power over others, mostly against their will. Leadership is inherently about getting people to act willingly to achieve a mutual goal. Tyranny is something else altogether.

      • Frank Faeth says


        People acting against their wills is never right and those people must push back to retain their self-esteem and humanity.

        I agree that leadership is exactly as you’ve defined it.


  2. Frank Faeth says

    Thank you for reading my blogs. It was good to hear you enjoy reading them.


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