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 / Autumn 2008 / Issue 52(originally published by Booz & Company)


Tea and Empathy with Daniel Goleman

“Dan Goleman gave social intelligence a name, he codified it, and he broke out the elements in a usable way,” says Suzy Welch, former editor of the Harvard Business Review and coauthor, with her husband, Jack Welch, of Winning (Collins, 2005). “The best business executives know that what he’s talking about is just a killer app.”

Goleman’s most recent line of inquiry, for a book due from Doubleday in 2009, is on the crisis of accountability that he believes corporations are facing. He argues that as biomedical research explores the health impact of chemicals on a microscopic level, manufacturers will be faced with increasing levels of scrutiny over the long-term health effects of the toxicity of the products they sell. If he is correct, then simply staying in business will require all the emotional intelligence that leaders can muster. It will also require a new calculus for risk: a more in-depth way of judging the potential harm of new endeavors, and a willingness to change those practices rapidly when environmental, social, or health risks appear.

Goleman’s preoccupations — transparency, social and emotional learning, leadership, and workplace culture — all show up regularly in the Weblog he started in 2006, which now averages about 750 hits per day. Though his topics vary from business to psychology to education, the basic underlying theme is awareness. People can change, not by controlling or suppressing their emotions, but by becoming more aware of them. (This might mean, for example, regularly asking oneself, “What do I feel, and what do others feel, when I express rage or anxiety?”) Companies can change by fostering awareness of the world at large. And his current inquiry on risk fits right in; if he’s right, corporations and organizations will become more powerful and successful only when people working within them can collectively become more sensitive to the impact of their actions.

And if he’s wrong, he’s still the guy who introduced the world to the “amygdala hijack.” The amygdalae are two almond-shaped clusters of neurons within the frontal lobes that receive signals directly from the senses and can flush the body with hormones. Goleman compares the amygdala to a primitive sentinel, “telegraphing a message of crisis to all parts of the brain,” and triggering sudden eruptions of anger or fear that people later regret. Those who understand the amygdala’s potency and learn to recognize the feeling of a hijack as it is happening are much less likely to be carried away by those emotions, and are thus much less likely to explode in rage. Goleman’s version of neuroscience tends to be popular precisely because it helps people learn to modulate their emotions. Is it a natural step, or an overreach, for him to suggest that companies, too, can train themselves to leave behind their own worst impulses?

Aristotle, Darwin, and Harvard
Like many regulars on the global lecture circuit, Goleman is both an exuberant public speaker and an intensely private individual. He makes his home with his wife, Tara Bennett-Goleman, in a remote, woodsy corner of western Massachusetts. In person, he is slender and personable; an avid listener and a graceful conversationalist. Though some people think of his work as promoting artifice, by teaching people to suppress their genuine feelings, Goleman argues that emotional and social intelligence cannot be counterfeited. “If you consciously try to imitate what your body does naturally, you use circuitry that is slower and less skilled,” he says. “Better to trust that your brain knows what it’s doing than to manipulate the process. The key is to relax and pay attention, and let the circuitry do its job.”

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  1. Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872; New York University Press, 1990): Observations of the emotions triggered by communication in faces and bodies of multiple species, still compelling today.
  2. Vanessa Urch Druskat, Fabio Sala, and Gerald Mount, eds., Linking Emotional Intelligence and Performance at Work: Current Research Evidence with Individuals and Groups (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005): Overview of the academic literature.
  3. Lawrence Fisher, “Howard Gardner Does Good Work,” s+b, Summer 2007: Goleman’s friend and colleague, expert on multiple intelligences.
  4. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (Bantam 1995; 2006): First and still most compelling in Goleman’s series.
  5. Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Bantam, 2006): The neuroscience of social sensitivity.
  6. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Harvard Business School Press, 2002): How to prepare for loftier roles. Opening line: “Great leaders move us.”
  7. Theodore Kinni, Ilona Steffen, and Brenda Worthen, eds., Capturing the People Advantage: Thought Leaders on Human Capital (strategy+business Books, 2008): Interviews with “people experts” on leadership and human capital strategies.
  8. James O’Toole, Creating the Good Life: Applying Aristotle’s Wisdom to Find Meaning and Happiness (Rodale Books, 2005): Contemporary meditation on Aristotle’s The Nicomachean Ethics, aimed at thoughtful leaders of business and society.
  9. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” s+b, Summer 2006: Groundbreaking view of attention density in the modern organization.
  10. Peter Salovey, Marc A. Brackett, and John D. Mayer, eds., Emotional Intelligence: Key Readings on the Mayer and Salovey Model (Dude Publishing, 2004): Overview of the fundamental research. 
  11. Robert I. Sutton: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (Warner Business Books, 2007): Argues that bad bosses can’t be improved, only escaped or eliminated.
  12. Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations Web site: Provides links to a variety of books, articles, and ideas.
  13. Daniel Goleman’s Web site: Includes his Weblog, podcasts (for example, a conversation with’s Larry Brilliant on “compassionate capitalism”), and overviews of the field.
  14. The Global NeuroLeadership Summits Web site: Institute and summits that bring together brain science and organizational and leadership practice.
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