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The Human Factor

Emotional intelligence

A tool for everyday managers in the shipping industry

By Fritz Pinnock, PhD

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In his research at nearly 200 companies, it was Daniel Goleman who first brought the term ‘emotional intelligence’ to a wide audience with his book, published in 1995.

It was also Goleman who first applied the concept of emotional intelligence to business. Goleman found that the qualities traditionally associated with successful leadership, such as intelligence, toughness, determination and vision, are quite insufficient without emotional intelligence. An effective leader is distinguished by his emotional intelligence, which must include a high degree of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. 

Experts have argued that managing one’s inner life is no easy task and, for many leaders, it is the most difficult challenge. In addition, gauging how one’s emotions affect others can be just as difficult. Many leaders whose emotional styles create a dysfunctional environment are eventually fired. But it doesn’t have to end that way. Just as a bad mood can be turned around, so can the spread of toxic feelings from an emotionally inept leader. 

Body of research

Through a growing body of research on the human brain, scholars and scientists have found that, for better or worse, leaders’ moods affect the emotions of the people around them, and the reason for that lies in what these scientists call the open-loop nature of the brain’s limbic system that is our emotional centre. According to these scientists, a closed-loop system is self-regulating, whereas an open-loop system depends on external sources to manage itself. In other words, we rely on connections with other people to determine our moods. These experts have argued that if a leader’s mood is so important, then he (or she) had better get into a good one, as a person’s mood has the greatest impact on performance when it is upbeat. But the leader’s mood must also be in tune with those around him. Good moods galvanise good performance, but it doesn’t make sense for a leader to be as chipper as a blue jay at dawn if sales are tanking or the business is going under. The most effective executives display moods and behaviours that match the situation at hand, with a healthy dose of optimism mixed in. They respect how other people are feeling, even if it is glum or defeated, but they also model what it looks like to move forward with hope and humour.


Experts have put forward the following components of emotional intelligence, which must be blended to be a successful leader: 

Self-awareness: This is perhaps the first and most essential of the emotional intelligence components. This is the ability to read one’s own emotions as it allows people to know their strengths and limitations and to feel confident about themselves and their worth. Self-awareness means having a deep understanding of one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. People with strong self-awareness are neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful. Rather, they are honest with themselves and with others.

According to experts, people who have a high degree of self-awareness recognise how their feelings affect them, their subordinates and their job performance. As a result, a self-aware person who knows that tight deadlines bring out the worst in him (or her) plans his time carefully and gets his work done well in advance. Another person with high self-awareness will be able to work with demanding subordinates. According to experts, self-awareness extends to a person’s understanding of his values and goals. Someone who is highly self-aware knows where he is headed and why. Thus, for example, he will be able to be firm in turning down a job offer that is tempting financially but does not fit with his principles or long-term goals. A person who lacks self-awareness is apt to make decisions that bring on inner turmoil by treading on buried values. 

Self-regulation: Self-regulation, which is like an ongoing inner conversation, is the component of emotional intelligence that frees us from being prisoners of our feelings. People engaged in such a conversation feel bad moods and emotional impulses just as everyone else does, but they find ways to control them and even to channel them in useful ways. An important question worth answering is why does self-regulation matter so much for leaders? Experts believe that people who are in control of their feelings and impulses are able to create an environment of trust and fairness. In such an environment, politics and infighting are sharply reduced and productivity is high. Talented people flock to the organisation and aren’t tempted to leave. And self-regulation has a trickle-down effect. In addition, self-regulation is important for competitive reasons. For example, in an emerging organisation, everyone knows that business today is rife with ambiguity and change and people who have mastered their emotions are able to move along with the changes. When a new programme is announced, they don’t panic; instead, they are able to suspend judgment, seek out information and listen to the executives as they explain the new programme. As the initiative moves forward, these people are able to move with it, and sometimes they even lead the way. Self-regulation also enhances integrity, which is not only a personal virtue but also an organisational strength created by the leader. Many of the bad things that happen in companies are a function of impulsive behaviour. People rarely plan to exaggerate profits, pad expense accounts, dip into the till or abuse power for selfish ends. Instead, an opportunity presents itself, and people with low impulse control just say yes. The signs of emotional self-regulation are always reflected in a propensity for reflection and thoughtfulness, comfort with ambiguity and change and integrity. According to experts, self-regulation, like self-awareness, often does not get its due. While people who can master their emotions are sometimes seen as cold fish, those with fiery temperaments are frequently thought of as ‘classic’ leaders, with their outbursts considered hallmarks of charisma and power. But when such people make it to the top, their impulsiveness often works against them.

Motivation: The key ingredient in motivation is achievement.While many people are motivated by external factors, such as a big salary or the status that comes from having an impressive title, those with leadership potential are motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement. The first sign of motivation is a passion for the work itself. People who are motivated seek out creative challenges, love to learn and take great pride in a job well done. They also display an unflagging energy to do things better. People with such energy often seem restless with the status quo. They are persistent with their questions about why things are done one way rather than another; and they are eager to explore new approaches to their work. Experts have argued that people with high motivation remain optimistic even when their performance score is against them. In such cases, self-regulation combines with achievement motivation to overcome the frustration and depression that come after a setback or failure. According to experts, commitment to the organisation is an ingredient that a leader needs to recognise when looking for one last piece of evidence. When people love their jobs for the work itself, they often feel committed to the organisations that make that work possible. Committed employees are likely to stay with an organisation no matter the circumstances. It’s not difficult to understand how and why a motivation to achieve translates into strong leadership. If you set the performance bar high for yourself, you will do the same for the organisation when you are in a position to do so. Likewise, a drive to surpass goals and an interest in keeping score can be contagious. Leaders with these traits can often build a team of managers around them with the same traits. 

Self-management: This is the ability to control one’s emotions and act with honesty and integrity in reliable and adaptable ways. Good leaders don’t let their occasional bad moods seize the day; they use self-management to leave it outside the office or to explain its source to people in a reasonable manner, so they know where it’s coming from and how long it might last.

Social awareness: This includes the key capabilities of empathy and organisational intuition. Socially aware leaders do more than sense other people’s emotions; rather they show that they care. Further, they are experts at reading the currents of office politics. Thus, these leaders often keenly understand how their words and actions make others feel, and they are sensitive enough to change them when that impact is negative.

Relationship management:The last of the emotional intelligence components includes the ability to communicate clearly and convincingly, disarm conflicts and build strong personal bonds. These leaders use these skills to spread their enthusiasm and solve disagreements, often with humour and kindness.


Salovey and Mayer have put forward a model that identified four factors of emotional intelligence: 

Perceiving emotions:The first step in understanding emotions is to accurately perceive them. In many cases, this might involve understanding non-verbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.

Reasoning with emotions: This step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. In this regard, emotions help prioritise what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.

Understanding emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean. 

Managing emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspects of emotional management. 

Goleman, who also developed a mixed model approach, states that emotional intelligence consists of both cognitive abilities and aspects of personality and motivation. According to Goleman, this combination of cognitive competences and components of personality facilitates the application of skills for handling emotion in real-world settings. Goleman’s model has helped to refine the definition of emotional intelligence to mean the ability to perceive emotions; to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought; to understand emotions and emotional knowledge; and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth. According to Goleman, emotional intelligence has been reported to have an impact on a leader’s social as well as communicative functions. While there are many definitions of emotional intelligence, the various definitions have tended to be complementary rather than contradictory. 


Fritz-PinnockDr. Fritz Pinnock is the Executive Director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute


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