Daniel Goleman: Adding Social Intelligence to Emotional Intelligence

Last Updated Sep 9, 2008 10:30 AM EDT

Ten years ago, Daniel Goldman advanced existing concepts of emotional intelligence to apply to leadership. His idea: The best leaders are empathetic and self-aware, and use these abilities to understand what is motivating individuals and groups in the organization and also using them to lead others.

Now Goleman is back in the current issue of Harvard Business Review with a look at how recent research in social neuroscience has caused him to dive even deeper into the workings of the human brain for lessons on leadership.

According to Goleman and coauthor Richard Boyatzis, neuroscientists have discovered that when people interact, "certain things leaders do -- specifically, exhibit empathy and become attuned to others' moods -- literally affect both their own brain chemistry and that of their followers.

Mr. Spock to the CEO's Office, Please
Literally affect brain chemistry of you and others? Talk about your Vulcan Mind Meld. But yes, the research suggests that leaders' emotions and actions can cause followers to mirror in their own brains those same feelings and deeds.

Goleman's emotional intelligence was based upon individual psychology, but this new work suggests the brain is wired with social circuits. So an effective leader must have social intelligence as well as emotional intelligence, the authors argue.

"Leading effectively is, in other words, less about mastering situations -- or even mastering social skill sets -- than about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need."

Are you a socially intelligent leader? The article includes a survey to help you gauge your own abilities. Here are three of the questions:

  1. Are you attuned to others' moods?
  2. Do you understand social networks and know their unspoken norms?
  3. Do you coach and mentor others with compassion and personally invest time and energy in mentoring?
Increasingly it seems medical science is influencing the development of business management. I recently wrote on the subject of "neuroeconomics" and how imaging technology is used to map how the brain thinks and makes decisions.

What do you think? Does successful people management come down to a core set of unmoving principles we already innately understand (give employees positive feedback as well as negative feedback)? Or does science, by helping describe how people think, react, and are motivated at a molecular level, provide us actionable information we can use in everyday practice?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.