BOOKS: Feel the pain, see the gain - Emotion isn't just background noise in the office, and good leaders will tune in to it. This is a really practical guide to EQ, says Howard Davies, if obscure in parts

BOOKS: Feel the pain, see the gain - Emotion isn't just background noise in the office, and good leaders will tune in to it. This is a really practical guide to EQ, says Howard Davies, if obscure in parts - The New Leaders - Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatz

by HOWARD DAVIES, chairman of the Financial Services Authority
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The New Leaders - Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee; Little, Brown pounds 17.99.

My last dose of formal management education concluded in 1980, when I graduated from Stanford Business School. (It shows, says my secretary). But I still vividly recall parts of the programme.

Not, I should say, the finance, or the accounting - all of which has vanished into the mists of time. What does stay with me is the memory of what I then found a painful experience: a course that went by the name of 'Interpersonal Dynamics'.

It would be hard to describe the syllabus. The '70s Californian jargon dubbed it a 't-group'. There were 12 of us, and a silent facilitator called Trip (who subsequently made, and probably lost, many zillions of dollars in a software company). We met three times a week, with no agenda and just one rule: that we couldn't close the meeting until everyone was happy to do so.

This curious arrangement generated an interesting dynamic. One or two of the group, who could not bear to leave a vacuum unfilled, began to impose their own agendas on the rest of us. That generated a predictable response from others who resented the attempt to seize control. When those two groups set about each other, the rest of us (resentful at being excluded from the fun) weighed in. By week three, our meetings, still with no agenda, were six hours long. By week six we were engaged in mutual character assassination. By the end, 10 of us would have done anything for each other: the other two - those who had started the bullying tactics - were in serious trouble. This was my own training in the importance of what Daniel Goleman and his co-conspirators call Emotional Intelligence.

Given the choice of a t-group in California or an evening tucked up with The New Leaders, my own choice is clear. But I have to admit that Goleman et al make a brave stab at explaining the importance of empathy and emotional leadership - even though they start badly, with a wholly implausible story about the closure of a BBC news department. You can tell they know little about our beloved Beeb: the idea that several hundred journalists were, as they suggest, 'laid off', is not quite the way the Corporation works.

This hiccup aside, they set out their stall persuasively, though as with many airport bookshop products, 300 pages could be condensed to 100. The thesis is simple: 'For too long, managers have seen emotions at work as noise cluttering the rational operation of organisations. But the time for ignoring emotions as irrelevant to business has passed. What organisations everywhere need now is to realise the benefits of primal leadership by cultivating leaders who generate the emotional resonance that lets people flourish.'

I'm not too sure about the 'primal' bit. A little too redolent of monkeys, or screams, for my taste.

But the sentiment must be right. And, for a guru production, The New Leaders is remarkably practical. They run through the leadership repertoire, include a kind of cookbook on 'becoming a resonant leader', and boldly suggest that there is a place for 'dissonant styles'.

I particularly liked that bit, since it acknowledges that one can tell people what they need to do ('the commanding style in action', for those who collect the jargon) without necessarily being classified as an SOB.

Goleman lost me when he began 'Discovering the Organisation's Reality through Dynamic Inquiry' (American academics are positively Germanic in their attachment to capital letters). But I woke up again when he described 'The Toxic Organisation'. I've been there, and many of you have too, I'm sure.

But with all this guidance, all these helpful hints, the bottom line is that Goleman's prescription increases the burden on the CEO. It's not enough to do the job, walk the talk, live the dream and all that. Leaders must also manage their own emotions. 'How well leaders manage their moods and affect everyone else's moods, then, becomes not just a private matter, but a factor in how well a business will do.'

So, in future, one has to leave one's moods at home. I fear for the dog, I really do.

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