What is the fewest number of questions that you would need to determine if you are a good leader? I certainly don’t know the answer, but I’ll offer some perspective. It was a smart person who chose to implement peer evaluations in Ranger School. It may not seem like much, but asking two simple questions about someone gets to the heart of many deep traits.

“Would you go to combat with this person?”

“Would you share a foxhole with this person?”

The use of peer evaluations in Ranger School and other selections balances the mixed demands that a leaders must be 1) technically competent, 2) cognitively sharp, but must also 3) play nice with others. Students cannot simply pass patrols – they must lead (and follow) in a manner that earns the support of their peers.

When asked to define the ideal leader, most of us would highlight traits such as intelligence, toughness, resilience, and vision—all qualities traditionally associated with leadership—but insufficient. Often left off the list are softer, more personal qualities. Although a certain degree of analytical and technical skill is a minimum requirement for success, studies indicate that emotional intelligence may be the key attribute that distinguishes outstanding performers from those who are merely adequate.

Emotional Intelligence is not a new concept in the military and it isn’t just a touchy-feely thing either. Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, would hardly be considered a soft leader, but he specifically referred to emotional intelligence in his definition of leadership. In his words, “Leadership is the sum of those qualities of intellect, human understanding, and moral character that enables a person to inspire and control a group of people successfully.” Human understanding was his insightful term for it.

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman first brought the term “emotional intelligence” to a wide audience with his 1995 book of the same name, and Goleman first applied the concept to business with this 1998 classic HBR article. In his research at nearly 200 large, global companies, Goleman found that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence. His research proved what Lt.Gen. Lejeune posited 100 years earlier: without it, a person can have first-class training, an incisive mind, and an endless supply of good ideas, but he still won’t be a great leader.

What is emotional intelligence? Goleman defines it as follows:

* Self-Awareness – knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others.

* Self-Regulation – controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods

* Motivation – relishing achievement for its own sake

* Empathy – understanding other people’s emotional makeup

* Social skill – building rapport with others to move them in desired directions

I’ll leave the science to Chevy, but it’s pretty clear that current professional development doesn’t nearly address this aspect of leadership and that’s a huge problem. Goleman researched this intensely in businesses and found that successful leaders benefitted twice as much from emotional intelligence over the other factors. In other words, technical and tactical competence mattered half as much as the soft skills of leadership. Self-study and book smarts won’t get you to the next level.

We all now a story about a highly intelligent, highly skilled leader who was promoted into a leadership position and simply failed immediately. We also know stories of leaders who are unremarkable in many ways, but who inspire troops and who soar as leaders. For much of my career so far, I was definitely in the first group. Book smart and motivated, but emotionally inept. Work was easy, but success was just out of grasp. I wanted desperately to be the best, but my annual evaluations gave me no answers.

Goleman’s research shows that emotional intelligence is cultivated through motivation, extended practice, and feedback. This requires an individualized approach, not en-masse classes about psychology. This isn’t surprising, but it is completely antithetical to military norms.

I have no doubt that there is no one in the military who aspires to be a toxic leader. In today’s all-volunteer force, everyone joins and serves because of a mixture of mission and values. Unfortunately, today’s force still works in the same industrial-era personnel system and our professional development systems (NCO and officer education and unit-level leader development programs) focus almost exclusively on technical skills. Our systems for counseling and evaluation are so tightly intertwined and under-utilized that meaningful feedback is rare. “CPT Owens is a top-20% officer. Center of mass.”

In the 20 years since Daniel Goleman’s book was published the business world has invested millions of dollars in professional development programs including 360-feedback, coaching, and education, but the military has been slow to keep up. We’re still trapped in the industrial-era personnel system.

Chevy, Ralph, and I saw this huge hole in our professional development. Military Mentors fills this gap and connects you to the people and resources that you need for the most important part of professional development. We’re paving the way for new connections and the feedback that leaders like you need to be successful. So, join us and start your development today.

Start a conversation. Spark a transformation.


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