Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

SHARE   |   Monday, 13 August 2018   |   By Dr Letshwiti B. Tutwane

Africa Awake

Dr Letshwiti B. Tutwane


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This week I wish to explore the leadership skill of Emotional Intelligence (EI).  It is actually a life skill that we all need but leaders need it most. Their scope is broad: they lead a lot of people and their decisions have consequences for millions of people.

We normally assume that leadership is natural and anybody has the ability to lead if they have the alacrity to do so. Unfortunately it is not like that. They say all roads to hell are paved with good intentions. A lot of people find themselves ensconced in leadership positions and work hard to discharge those responsibilities but they make a lot of mistakes. Genuine mistakes. Genuine failure. They simply can’t lead. They think that they are doing the right thing but their people are not happy. This means that leaders must learn. Leadership is a skill. Leaders are not born. They are made. Of course there is an exception. There are naturally born leaders; people with God given talent to lead: take the likes of Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln. Mandela spent a lot of time in jail and this did not have the chance to learn from anybody but was mostly self-taught and hugely talented. But of course he did disclose that listening to his elders try cases in the Eastern Cape did give him some wisdom.  A 19th century leader, Lincoln ruled at a time that leadership wasn’t formerly taught in universities. He was a talented lawyer who brought not only his legal skills but Godly wisdom to bear in his brief leadership of America.


Contrast this with this scenario. Somebody has been excelling in the classroom as a teacher. To motivate them we promote them to be Head-teacher or Principal. But we have never prepared them for this. Yet we expect them to perform miracles. They don’t even believe in Jesus in the first place! We need to have an innovative motivational approach where people can have salary and reward perks that do not necessitate them leaving the positions where they excel. At the same time we must train people in leadership before we appoint them. However, we must identify the right people for promotion to leadership positions. Leadership is a skill that one must acquire before they lead. Otherwise we must expect constant failure. John Maxwell says leadership is a function and not a title. I couldn’t agree more.  

I think it was this realisation that leadership is a skill that Plato the Greek Philosopher argued that only the learned must rule; the so-called philosopher kings. Unfortunately education alone is not enough. I mean generic education. A masters or PhD does not equal good leadership. So is a law degree as we see in many cases. You need to sit and learn different approaches to leadership. Societies all over the world are teeming with educated fools. Nevertheless must add the caveat that leadership also requires good character.   I was fortunate to undergo leadership training many years back thanks to the Kellogg Foundation Leadership programme that enabled me to learn over a three year period. Some of the people I remember from my cohort are the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President Elias Magosi and the UN Women’s Head, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Vice President of South Africa. I was not surprised that Magosi protested the leadership of Hon. Minister Tshekedi Khama at the Ministry of Wildlife, Environment and Tourism. He would not brook any unprofessional conduct as a Kellogg Fellow. We were properly trained.


As a formal body of knowledge, the term emotional intelligence was clarified and popularised by former New York Times Science reporter Dale Coleman in a 1995 book of the same title.  He had himself encountered the term from a journal article written by two psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey. It has since spread across the world and become an integral part of leadership/management theory. It is also part of curriculum in many schools globally. In the US state of Illinois, it is even taught to kids from elementary school through to high school in what is called Social Emotional Learning (SEL). In their early days at elementary school, pupils learn to recognize and accurately label their emotions and how they lead them to act. By the late elementary years they are taught empathy and made to identify the non-verbal clues about the feelings of others. At junior high school they are taught how to analyse what creates stress for them or what motivates their best performance. And finally at high school they learn how to listen and talk in ways that resolve conflicts instead of escalating them and also learn how to negotiate win-win solutions.

Essentially emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage our own emotions and also the ability to recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others. Our Setswana practice of greeting each other and even the strangers that we encounter in the streets is has an element of emotional intelligence.  Imagine a work situation where you are a boss. You have a Personal Secretary. But there is nothing personal about that. When you arrive in the morning you shoot straight to your office, though you have the option to use her door. All you want is for her to get things done for you. But she is not a machine. She is a human being with feelings.  And you know that she is a very energetic and conscientious employee. Suddenly her performance drops and the best you are able to do is to shout instructions to her without finding out what is eating her inside. The poor lady could be going through abuse in her love relationship. But do you care? You don’t. You are well educated but you do not have emotional intelligence. You can’t lead others.


Contrast this with the anecdotal account I read many years ago in Rory Steyn’s book; One step behind Nelson Mandela. He explains how the late South African president would call his children on their birthdays and wish them well. Due to pressures of work, he would have forgotten himself. Imagine a president of a country calling the home of his bodyguard to express love. This challenged Rory Steyn, a white man to make a commitment to lay his life for his black president. And even unto his death Mandela was thinking about his employees, leaving behind R5000 for each of his staff, including his driver Michael Maponya in his will. The workplace is where we not only spend most of our years but most of our daytime. Imagine if we all exercised emotional intelligence and made it a happy place that we would all look forward to.  His good friend Advocate George Bizos remembers Madiba saying, 'If you want to please me, build a school or, if you have the money, build a school and a clinic'. He was always thinking about doing good for the people of South Africa. He knew the struggle was about emancipation of the poor people of his country. He valued national building, hence his government of national unity with IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi as a minister. Contrast this with what is happening in Zimbabwe now. Notwithstanding a legal challenge to his recent victory, President Edson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe locked up a senior opposition leader and is prosecuting him. In the DRC President Joseph Kabila will not allow his rival Mosei Katumbi to return and register for elections. Do these two leaders care about the violence that can result from their actions? Do they ever spare a thought for the hungry masses of their countries? Sometimes you overlook your legal powers and consider the greater public good.    

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