Monday, August 01, 2005

Sir John A. Macdonald Likely a High “EI” Leader

It’s almost impossible to be a great leader without strong people skills. Given our perpetual fascination with contemporary and historical political leaders---why they are or are not effective---a check on their “emotional intelligence” (how leaders handle themselves and their relationships) can help connect the dots. Canada’s revered and pragmatic first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, appears to meet the “EI” criteria.

A leader’s manner matters. People watch leaders and take their emotional cues from them. In effect, a leader’s attitude toward others affects the mood around him like a “contagion” positive or negative. Douglas McGregor, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, enshrined the notion in the 1950’s with his Theory X (stick) and Theory Y (carrot). His central message: people thrive on genuine respect from others; managers who honour this desire will be much more successful at “motivating” workers than those who do not. Rutgers University’s Daniel Goleman has continued the “relationship management” theme stressing that the emotional task is the “primal” leadership capability.

Judging from recent research of 500,000 people by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, top leaders, in general, have some work to do on their EI. The San Diego consultants found that EI scores increase with titles upward toward middle management and then steeply decrease thereafter. CEOs seem to be a hard nosed lot relying more on themselves than those around them. If middle managers are getting the message and their CEOs are not, the former are in a tough position. Clearly, we’ve got some work to do in our modern organizations to strengthen primal leadership.

In Canada’s early days, relationship-focused leadership from Sir John A. Macdonald helped lay the foundation for the nation’s resilience and moderation amidst a changing world. Macdonald was a bridge-builder, forging regional coalitions and dialogue across languages, religions and geography. Wilfred Laurier called him “gifted as few men in any land or in any age”. Historians Jack Granatstein and Norm Hillmer noted that “he understood that sugar caught more flies than vinegar.” Pierre Burton wrote in The National Dream that “the twinkling eyes, the sardonic smile, the easy tolerance, the quick wit, and the general lack of malice made Macdonald an attractive figure in and out of Parliament.”

Some things are universal. Those admirable qualities of Macdonald would be welcome in any situation. Cheerfulness and warmth spread easily like a friendly virus. They lift up moods and inject camaraderie and cooperation into any group working together. As Goleman says in Primal Leadership, “leaders with that kind of talent are emotional magnets” to which people “naturally gravitate for the pleasure of working in their presence.”