Tom Talks about the Biology of Leadership–part 1 (first in a series on this topic)

Remember all the buzz about ten or so years ago about “emotional intelligence,” which was a concept pioneered by thinker/author Daniel Goleman and focused on the vital role that empathy and self-knowledge play in effective leadership?

Goleman co-chairs the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, which is based at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. He published a book on emotional intelligence in the late 1990s and got a lot of people thinking about this important subject. Now he and a fellow social scientist, Richard Boyatzis, are looking into a fascinating new area called “social neuroscience,” or the study of what happens in the brain when people interact. According to Goleman and Boyatzis (G/B for easy reference) in a recent article in Harvard Business Review OnPoint (a compendium of selected HBR articles), social neuroscience is “beginning to reveal subtle new truths about what makes a good leader:

“The salient discovery is that 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,” G/B write. “Indeed, researchers have found that the leader-follower dynamic is not a case of two (or more) independent brains reacting consciously or unconsciously to each other. Rather, the individual minds become, in a sense, fused into a single system. We believe that great leaders are those whose behavior powerfully leverages the system of brain interconnectedness.”

Brain interconnectedness?

At first glance this might sound like a campy science fiction novel or maybe a weird cult where everyone drinks acid Kool-Aid before heading off to nirvana in his or her brand new Nikes. But if you read further, G/B make a lot of sense. In fact, many of their assertions reinforce my own ideas about what makes a great leader, which I discuss in my new book “Building a Winning Business.”

I’m going to explore some of the ideas advanced by G/B in this post and a few more that will follow in the coming weeks. If you would like to read more about “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership” be sure to check out the article by the same title in the spring 2011 edition of Harvard Business Review OnPoint (