Emotional Intelligence & Primal Leadership Theory

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The understanding and analysis of emotional intelligence help people to control their emotions and avoid anxiety and stress. Individual differences in social and emotional competence are difficult to describe and measure, it is apparent that persons differ in the extent to which they have the skills or competence to succeed in important life tasks. A further implication is that many life tasks will be particularly difficult for individuals with less expertise, with the likely result of increased stress. Consistent with the general view of the psychophysiology of stress as a link between personality traits and illness, limitations in social intelligence or competence could confer vulnerability to disease. Thus, the study of personality traits as risk factors might be expanded to include increased attention to skill and adaptive competencies, especially in emotional and social domains. The theory of emotional intelligence would be compared with the theory of Primal leadership developed by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee.

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Discussion Section

Emotional intelligence defined

Emotional intelligence is described as the ability of a person to control his own emotions and feelings and direct and guide the feelings of others. The personality and health literature also has implications for primary prevention efforts. If traits such as (low) agreeableness and high neuroticism contribute to illness, the development of social and emotional adjustment and competencies should reduce risk. Following Druskat et al (2006): “formally defined it as involving (a) the ability to perceive, appraise, and express emotion accurately; (b) the ability to access and generate feelings when they facilitate cognition; (c) the ability to understand affect-laden information and make use of emotional; knowledge; and (d) the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth and well-being’ (p. xxviii). When employment-processing activities are outsourced to industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists who are trained in selection and assessment, these psychologists may end up facing an unanticipated dilemma. On the one hand, the I/O psychologists are asked to implement a recruitment and selection process designed by the client and are evaluated based on how rigorously they followed the client’s specifications. On the other hand, the I/O psychologists have received extensive professional training as independent professionals and may decide that in their professional judgment the client’s procedures could be improved.

Primal Leadership Theory

According to Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee’s model in Primal Leadership, leadership competencies or behaviors, such as a drive for results or respect for others, must ultimately be defined in country-specific terms. The concept of optimism will be different in India than in America simply because Hindu philosophy is more fatalistic and does not value, as Americans do, they need to take control and change the world. Primal Leadership is based on four main elements of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. The leadership initiative allowed cultural differences to emerge, be discussed and ultimately be better understood. The higher-order principle of competency, however, must transcend borders. For example, drive for results means that all actions must be taken with appropriate speed, whereas respect for others means that cultural differences must be valued and integrated into business activities. “The emotional task of the leader is primal – that is first in two senses: it is both the original and the most important act in leadership” (Goleman et al 2002, p. 5). Nonetheless, stimulated in part by obvious changes in workplace stressors and in part by the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence (1995), employers are keen to assess the resilience and adaptability of job candidates. Because measures validated for the workplace don’t exist, there has been a surge in pseudopsychological assessment by unqualified individuals and firms using untested methods. Many hiring managers (and some HR professionals who should know better) are relying on unsubstantiated measurements of these characteristics to make important staffing decisions. These include clinical assessments of personality by unqualified interviewers or assessors, projective tests with questionable psychometric properties, and even adaptations of a questionnaire to illustrate the construct of emotional intelligence for newspaper readers. The professional interests of industrial psychologists and HR professionals are not well served when popularity is substituted for validity in determining an instrument’s use (Antonakis, 2003).

Comparison of the primal leadership and emotional intelligence theory

Similar to Druskat et al (2008), Goleman et al (2002) underline that emotional intelligence is a core of leadership and workplace philosophy. The best available measures of interpersonal skills assess focused and job-specific competencies rather than general personal attributes. Measures of the Big Five personality characteristic of extroversion have been used successfully to predict job performance for managerial and sales occupations but not for others in which the interpersonal component is less dominant. As more types of jobs require significant interaction with others, the validity of extroversion for predicting job success may become higher, and more generalizable, but its use as an across-the-board assessment of interpersonal skills cannot be recommended based on the current evidence. Goleman et al (2002) admits that: “the key of making primal leadership work to everyone’s advantage lies in the leadership competencies of emotional intelligence: how leaders handle themselves and their relationships” (p. 6). In all cases, the examples presented here are grounded in business relevance. Understanding this business-relevant linkage is critical to the success of HR initiatives in a global enterprise. Before attempting to apply the wealth of cross-cultural wisdom and diversity principles, the effective HR practitioner must be sufficiently astute to sell complex cross-cultural issues in a way that is understandable to the business decision-maker.

Similar to Goleman et al (2002) theory, other researchers (Härtel and Zerbe, 2002) underline that measuring aspects of effective team members can be learned or developed rather than with enduring personality characteristics. However, their focus is on the distinctive requirements of working in a team setting and not on the technical, task-related skills required by specific jobs incorporated into the work team. Thus, their instrument is intended for multi-occupational, multi-organizational use. Interestingly, their results so far show that individual functioning as part of a work team is related not only to the domains of interpersonal abilities but also to self-management. In the two validity studies conducted to date, scores on the test were significantly related to supervisory ratings of teamwork and overall performance (Goleman, 1997).

Of course, category membership is not a perfect predictor of knowledge. Doubtless, some teenagers have no idea who the “Dead Kennedys” are, and with increasing frequency one encounters New York taxi drivers whose knowledge of local geography barely goes beyond “the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.” Nevertheless, group or category membership is often a very good indicator of what, at a minimum, an individual can be expected to know. The core of many of the interventions described in the previous paragraph focuses on dealing with survivors’ feelings and emotions. Modern organizations are beginning to deal with survivor feelings such as anger, frustration, and anxiety through a variety of processes. Examples include venting sessions, individual counseling, team-building sessions focused on externalizing emotional blockages to team performance, and line manager training in basic helping skills. The so-called soft side is coming out as organizational leaders realize that feelings and emotions are the currency of the realm when dealing with wounded employees (Härtel and Zerbe, 2002)

Emotions at workplace

Although many organizations have developed communication themes that emphasize employee autonomy, the provisional nature of the employment contract, and the importance of being “self-employed” within a large organization, these messages are often transmitted in an environment of doubt and confusion. The old assumptions of loyalty, commitment, and motivation remain deeply entrenched in many organizations. This is often a generational issue, with younger professional employees comfortable with the new reality and able to tie their self-esteem to what they do rather than to where they work, particularly middle managers, often seeming conflicted and confused; and top managers seeming to have the most difficult time dropping the assumptions of the past (Härtel and Zerbe, 2002)

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In addition, the need for emotional cohesion may not be great because the groups may not be conceived of as even quasi-permanent. It is also uncertain which type of development program might be most appropriate and which type of incentive program might be best. One possibility may be the extensive use of financial incentives to integrate such groups into a common effort because financial benefits are not tied to any particular organization or setting. In this world downsizing is a tool of managerial decision making, work-family conflict is a fact of life for millions and, increasingly, contingent workers, part-time workers, and outsourcing are used. It is a work setting where opportunities to meet self-enhancement and growth needs exist for some individuals but not for all, and where opportunities for self-protection such as job and benefit security are increasingly difficult to come by (Payne and Cooper, 2007).

Differences between the models

The main difference between the Primal leadership and the emotional intelligence model is that primal leadership is based on leadership ideology and philosophy while emotional intelligence concentrates on the emotions of an employee and his relations with others. These changes have made it necessary for HRM as a profession to reevaluate its traditional practices and begin to develop and implement programs that meet these needs for self-enhancement and self-protection in the new work setting. Researchers offered illustrations of such programs, including effective self-career management programs based on personal growth principles; labor pool associations for those for whom self-career management is inappropriate; performance incentive programs not based on organizational commitment, including financial rewards of both direct income and health, welfare, and pension benefits; and insider-outsider training programs (McDonagh et al 2003).

In contrast to Primal leadership theory, emotional intelligence concentrates on emotional stability. Emotional stability and other personality attributes have received little attention in conventional job analysis, at least when compared with cognitive and technical job specifications. However, interpersonal, team and customer-oriented attributes seem essential in today’s work assignments and therefore should be stressed in work analysis. Organizations are attempting to manage interpersonal and even emotional aspects of work that in the past were left to the employee’s discretion. For example, how customer service reps handle customer reactions is often “scripted”; employees are given specific responses to use when facing customer reactions. However, not being able to express one’s true feelings may result in emotional dissonance and eventually job burnout. Emotional stability is a significant contributor to effective customer service among health care employees (McDonagh et al 2003).

Still another example of the need to stress personality in work analysis involves work activities requiring adaptation to diverse sets of values and beliefs, which are of ever-increasing relevance given the cultural differences among not only employees but also customers (McDonagh et al 2003). For example, expatriate managers need to be sensitive to cultural differences in power distance—defined as the extent to which individuals in culture accept and expect an uneven distribution of power—so that they keep the appropriate social distance in their interactions. Mistakes in this area can offend local parties and result in important revenue loss. In a similar vein, expatriates need to cultivate personal relationships and friendships with key local parties because in collectivistic cultures emphasizing personal and family ties, business is done only when parties fully know and respect each other (see Hofstede, 1980, for classification of collectivistic versus individualistic cultures). Employee attributes like self-awareness and tolerance for ambiguity seem essential for competent performance in global markets. Other attributes, like time urgency, may be harmful in such circumstances because attempts to move right into business matters may be met with suspicion (Reeve, 2004).

In Primal leadership, the descriptors needed to capture the attributes associated with the interpersonal aspects of work remain underdeveloped. Nevertheless, some practices already in effect suggest potentially relevant descriptors (Goleman et al 2002). Similarly, a fast-food chain famous for its ethnic food provides restaurant servers with a list of remarks about how they fixed the items ordered (for example, The description of these job aids and their purpose should help define the roles that employees are expected to carry out. Because work assignments are becoming knowledge-intensive, methods of cognitive task analysis have been proposed to map the mental models used to support performance. Cognitive task analysis is concerned with the description of the cognitive processes and knowledge structures (sometimes called schemas) involved in performing the observable tasks that are the target of traditional task analysis. Perhaps the most innovative of the descriptors employed in cognitive task analysis is the representation of knowledge and procedures in a graphical format or structural network, which describes factual knowledge in terms of concepts and their interrelationships. Although structural networks can be developed using any syntax the analyst wishes, the method of concept mapping—where one uses whatever concepts and labels are relevant to the domain under study—seems to be the preferred approach. ”Effective emotional orientation involves letting go of unhelpful emotion control strategies and being willing to have emotionally charged private experiences (e.g., anxiety), when doing so fosters effective action” (Druskat et al 2006, p. 32).

In contrast to primal leadership, emotional intelligence theory concentrates on adaptability. There are no general measures of emotional resilience or adaptability to change that have been validated for work settings. Martin Seligman (1992) developed a measure of “learned optimism” that captured some aspects of resilience, which showed some early success predicting performance in insurance sales jobs; however, the original validity data are a decade old and no newer evidence has emerged. Measures of the Big Five personality characteristics of emotional stability and openness to experience have been disappointing in this regard, with virtually no cross-occupational validity and limited validity within specific occupations (Reeve, 2004). Research on Big Five–based and interpersonal predictors of success in creative, artistic, and socially-oriented jobs are promising but still preliminary. “Researchers point out rightly that EI measures are fundamentally different from IQ measures. We acknowledge these differences but argue that EI measures don’t need to be similar to IQ measures. Many aspects of EI are probably unrelated to IQ, which is consistent with the common intuition that smart people can be emotionally stupid” (Druskat et al 2006, p. 22). Almost certainly -provided that ‘other aspects of intelligence’ are defined in a sufficiently liberal manner. Rather than enumerate all the possibilities, let us conclude with a brief discussion of one particular candidate — social, personal, or emotional intelligence. This should be sufficient to illustrate the kinds of arguments that have been advanced in support of proposals for a particular intelligence, as well as some of the problems attendant on such proposals. The idea that one could distinguish social from other aspects of intelligence has a history dating back at least as far as the early days of IQ testing (Reeve, 2004). It is precisely this positive manifold that in other domains of IQ allows one to talk of verbal ability, spatial ability, reasoning ability, perceptual speed, or even of g itself. In the present case, the evidence for any such positive manifold is distinctly unimpressive. Researchers suppose that there is no correlation between performance on their tests and or indeed with any other test of social skills. Similarly, although the PONS test is reasonably reliable, with a test-retest reliability coefficient of 0.69, and although performance on one part of the test correlates reasonably well with other parts, overall performance is only very weakly related to ratings of social skill or competence: the correlations with self-ratings are less than 0.10, those with other people’s ratings only marginally higher. Since these various tests of emotional intelligence do not seem to have identified a general dimension of social intelligence, it may seem hardly necessary to address the final question: is intelligence independent of g, or any other aspects of IQ? But one of the few investigations to find any sort of positive manifold in a battery of tests of social skills also found that these measures correlated quite well with measures of academic intelligence. Although the correlations between social and academic measures were somewhat lower than those between one social measure and another, the difference was not large. This raises the possibility that, in so far as different measures of social competence do agree with one another, this may be because they are related to more general aspects of intelligence. One other observation would be consistent with that (Druskat et al 2006).

Perhaps the most striking finding from this research is the independence of different tests of social competence. But maybe that should not come as such a great surprise, for on reflection it does seem reasonable to suppose that we are dealing with a wide variety of rather different skills used to cope with the very wide range of demands that social life imposes. Being the life and soul of the party is not the same as being sensitive to other people’s feelings, or knowing the right thing to say in an awkward situation (Druskat et al 2006). People who are considerate and punctual may not necessarily be good at flattering their superiors. Some of these skills, of course, maybe better regarded as aspects of personality or temperament that ought to be kept conceptually distinct from any concept of intelligence (Druskat et al 2006). Future research may, or may not, produce a stronger call for the concept of social or emotional intelligence independent of other aspects of intelligence measured by IQ tests. Although my discussion of this topic has run the risk of concluding on a somewhat skeptical or even sour note, it will have served its purpose if it has suggested the sorts of questions that need to be addressed if a good case is to be made out for yet more multiple intelligences. This is as much a question about the nature of intelligence as one about the nature of IQ tests (Goleman, 1997).

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Emotional Intelligence and Theory of Mind

The evidence that other primates possess a theory of mind is distinctly sparse, and most researchers would probably now agree that monkeys at least do not. Although some continue to argue that at least the great apes do, that too remains a debatable proposition. But there can hardly be any serious doubt that, in a loose sense of the term, people have a theory of mind. We routinely use mental predicates to describe and explain the behavior of others; we attribute desires and beliefs to others and understand that someone else’s desires and beliefs may be quite different from our own. The entire enterprise of cognitive psychology, after all, is premised on a theory of mind in this loose sense. But it is quite another thing to say that we possess an innate theory of mind module, which starts to kick in during the second or third year of life, eventually allowing normal children to pass the ‘false belief’ test (when a 3- or 4-year-old child understands that someone else may not know what he knows — or that someone else’s beliefs about the world may be false). The strongest argument for the postulation of domain-specific modules was that the developing child’s environment simply does not provide sufficient information to enable a general-purpose intelligence to acquire those competencies that all normal children succeed in developing. That does not seem a plausible argument here. Unlike the world of the chimpanzee, the world of the young child is full of people talking about mental states, asking the child what she wants or what she remembers, telling her that something she believed to be true is not true, telling her that they do not know what happened when the toy was broken because they were not there. And so on. There seems ample opportunity for a general-purpose cognitive system, perhaps aided by a few simple mechanisms such as a propensity to look at what a speaker is looking at, to develop a theory of mind, without the need for a full-blown specialist module (Payne and Cooper, 2007).

Attempts to prevent emotional disorders, antisocial behavior, and substance abuse in children and adolescents often focus on traits and processes that are similar to those discussed in models of the personality characteristics that confer risk of physical illness. These prevention programs attempt to foster emotional self-regulation and social interaction competencies through educational methods. These interventions generally produce improved emotional adjustment, peer relations, and conflict resolution skills. Although targeted toward mental health, this primary prevention technology may have beneficial effects on physical health as well. Thus, a conclusion from the current research on personality traits as risk factors for physical illness is that the existing literature on primary prevention in the domain of social and emotional health may have valuable implications for the prevention of physical illness. Efforts to maximize the emotional and social adjustment of children and adolescents may contribute to their later physical health as adults (Payne and Cooper, 2007).

Common sense or everyday experience are both consistent with the idea that we spend much of our time engaged in social interactions with others, and that some people seem more successful than others in such interactions (Goleman, 1997). There is another, important strand to the concept of intelligence — that provided by research on non-human primates. Why, should apes and monkeys be so much more intelligent than other mammals? It is not as if their daily lives are fraught with practical difficulties; for most of them, their food supply is reasonably plentiful and their predators few. Why do they need to be so intelligent? The answer was that their intelligence is social rather than practical (Goleman, 1997). Most primates live in quite large social groups, and their intelligence evolved to cope with the demands of social life, the need to learn one’s place in a social hierarchy, how to interact with one’s social superiors and inferiors, how to co-operate with others, and how, sometimes, to outwit them. The possession of a ‘theory of mind’ underlay the chimpanzee’s ability to understand, control, or predict the behavior of others. The idea has been taken up by numerous developmental psychologists, some of whom have argued that we possess a domain-specific ‘theory of mind module’, that allows the developing child to understand that other people have hopes, fears, beliefs, and wishes; and the absence of imperfect development of which in autistic children is responsible for their unusual social behavior (Antonakis, 2003).

The argument for distinctly emotional intelligence, therefore, must look elsewhere for support. The first step will be to provide some more precise instances of competence with the social domain. That does not seem very difficult. Most people could probably agree on a relatively long list of situations calling for social skills or social intelligence: understanding other people, being sensitive to their feelings, showing an interest in them, responding to their needs, sympathizing with them when they are distressed, putting them at their ease, being the life and soul of the party, showing a suitable level of deference to one’s superiors, judging the appropriate level of flattery that the boss likes, being considerate and punctual. And so on. Most people will probably also agree that some of us are better at many of these things than others. So the next step should also not be impossibly difficult: we need to devise tests that measure these skills. Several such tests have indeed been produced. For example, some tests require one to select from a set of photographs of faces the two that are displaying the same mental state or to match the emotion shown in a facial expression with that revealed by a tone of voice (Härtel and Zerbe, 2002). Some researchers insisted that there is a social or emotional intelligence that is quite independent of the general intelligence measured by standard IQ tests. But neither has produced any serious evidence to support this claim. What would that evidence look like? If people do differ along a dimension of social intelligence, then the first requirement is that measures of the various social skills outlined above should tend to correlate with one another (Antonakis, 2003).

Practical Applications

Emotional Intelligence and Workplace Commutation

Primal leadership helps managers and leaders to build their relations with employees and control their emotions. What the quality philosophy is all about when separated from its techniques is relevant to work that serves others and is performed by empowered people. This is the essence of the new employment contract! This shining theme runs through the basic philosophies (as distinct from the often distracting techniques) of all the quality gurus. A referential communication task has the advantage that it constrains what the participants talk about. Unless the participants stray from their assignment, the topical domain is defined by the task, and this allows the investigator to do two things (Goleman, 1997).


The role of emotional intelligence is by now important for every person. But practice can also enhance a variety of other skills, such as digit span, mental arithmetic, or calendar calculating, and in these cases the evidence suggests that the sheer amount of practice is far more important than IQ in determining the final level of achievement. Similar domain-specific expertise is evident in the ability of young Brazilian street vendors to perform quite complex feats of mental arithmetic in the context of working out the price of six melons or the amount of change a customer is owed, combined with an inability to solve formally identical problems presented in the standard format of a mental arithmetic test. Studies of the validity, or external correlates, of emotional intelligence, will never really provide the magic answer some people are looking for.


Antonakis, J. (2003). Why “Emotional Intelligence” does not Predict Leadership Effectiveness. International Journal of Organizational Analysis; 11 (4), 355-361.

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Druskat, V.U., Sala, F., Mount, G. (2006). Linking Emotional Intelligence and Performance at Work: Current Research Evidence with Individuals and Groups. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of Publication: Mahwah, NJ.

Goleman, D. (1997). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ Bantam.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R.E., McKee, A. (2002). Primal Leadership. Harvard Business Press; 1 edition.

Härtel, & W. Zerbe (Eds.), (2002). Emotions in the workplace: Research, theory, and practice (pp. 36–48). Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

McDonagh, D., Hekkert, P., Erp, J., Gvi, D. (2003). Design and Emotion. CRC; 1 edition.

Payne, R. L., Cooper, C. L. (2007). Emotions at Work: Theory, Research and Applications for Management. Wiley-Interscience.

Reeve, J. (2004). Understanding Motivation and Emotion. Wiley; 4 edition.

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