Academic journal article Military Review

Emotional Intelligence and Army Leadership: Give It to Me Straight!

Academic journal article Military Review

Emotional Intelligence and Army Leadership: Give It to Me Straight!

Article excerpt

THE SCENE IS Hollywood movie producer Harry Meyer's office. Harry is talking to famously bad B-movie actor Johnny O'Connor. Harry tells Johnny he is not renewing his contract.

"I'm lettin' ya go, Johnny!" he says. "Your contract's not being renewed."

"But...."

"You're finished Johnny!"

"Whaddya mean?"

"I think you stink!"

"Don't mince words, Harry. If you're unhappy with my work, speak up, will you? Tell me now."

"You're through Johnny! You'll never work in this town again!"

"Geez, Harry! Don't leave me hanging by a thread! Give it to me straight! Let me know where I stand!"

"Johnny, I think you are the worst actor I have ever seen, and I get 500 letters a week telling me the same!"

"O.K., O.K., Harry! But, what's the word on the street?" (1)

This exchange, between comedians John Lovitz and Phil Hartman, highlights a proven aspect of human nature: it is sometimes difficult for us to accept negative feedback. Research suggests that leaders tend to overestimate their strengths and underestimate their weaknesses. (2) This trait is thought to be essential for maintaining a positive self-image. However, it has a negative effect. It can blind a leader to his personal shortcomings. (3)

This kind of blindness can be especially problematic for leaders of Army organizations. Elevated to positions of authority by rank and regulation, Army leaders can become so distanced from their subordinates that the candid feedback essential to organizational effectiveness is absent. In Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman and his coauthors describe this as "CEO disease." They define the condition as "the information vacuum around a leader created when people withhold important (and usually unpleasant) information." (4) The Army's rigid hierarchy and traditions can contribute to such a vacuum. A leader attempting to divine subordinates' perceptions is often required to infer the meaning of subtle feedback from the members of the organization.

How can Army leaders influence their organizations in such a way that they promote candid, constructive feedback? What aspects of leaders' personalities allow them to recognize and understand feedback of all types from those around them? We might find one answer to these questions in theories about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability that an effective leader harnesses to influence his subordinates and the climate of his organization in a positive manner.

Redefining Army Leadership

The first step to understanding and applying emotional intelligence is examining the interpersonal relationship between leaders and followers. To understand the leader-to-follower connection as an interpersonal relationship, we have to back up once more and define leadership. In his bestselling textbook Leadership. Theory and Practice, Peter G. Northouse defines leadership as "a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal." (5) Northouse uses the word "process" to describe how leaders influence because the word implies an interaction; that is, leaders "affect and are affected by" those they lead. (6)

The Army definition of leadership in Field Manual (FM) 22-100, Army Leadership, is more prescriptive than that used by Northouse. It says that "leadership is influencing people--by providing purpose, direction, and motivation--while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization." (7) This wording implies that leadership is a one-way action. The leader simply provides purpose, direction, and motivation, and the followers are influenced. In fact, in the next sentence the FM defines "influencing" as "getting people to do what you want them to do." (8) Put another way, Army leadership is simply telling people what you want them to do. There is no provision for subordinate input and no requirement for subordinate "buy-in. …

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