Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Richard Boyatzis on The Making of a CEO

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Richard Boyatzis on The Making of a CEO
January 2009 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary


Dr. Richard Boyatzis
Professor in the Department of Organizational Behavior, Psychology and Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University and Human Resources at ESADE


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  • First, it was emotional intelligence a decade ago and now it’s all about social intelligence. Congratulations to both of you (with your co-author, Daniel Goleman) for making such wonderful contributions to the field of leadership. Can you tell us what social intelligence is all about? What does it entail for organizational leadership?
    Studies of effective leaders and managers throughout the world, including in Turkey, have shown that more effective ones use more competencies thatwe nowcall social intelligence, as well as those competencies we call emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence.

    The social intelligence are those competencies, like Empathy and Inspirational Leadership and Teamwork that involve working with others. These competencies involve different neurological circuits and hormones than do the EI and CI ones. If organizations want to be effective, the new leaders and managers should use these competencies above the tipping point. If they don’t have them, their performance will suffer. They may still make money (but that is not hard in today’s world) but they will not be effective over the long term, in adapting and innovating in response to competition.

  • Why do you think leadership always attracted and continues to attract researchers’, consultants’ and organizations’ interest? What makes it an ever-green field of study? What does this continued interest suggest?
    Because we were born to our parents, we have unconscious fascination with power and those who have it. We are attracted to them, like our parents. We also become suspicious of them. So leadership is a love-hate relationship. Also, because people in power affect the lives of many others, the study of leaders provides the possibility of helping organizations and societies become more humane and effective with most leverage. On a more prurient note, people pay money to read on leaders, studies of leadership, and for speeches. So there is also a pragmatic angle!

  • One argument against such researches is that they tend to preempt any natural behavior and therefore end up ‘boxing’ people. What is your perspective therefore on the efficacy of such research and what precautions do you suggest should be taken before generalizing few observations?
    Adults can change. I have 20 years of longitudinal studies showing that adults can significantly improve on their EI, SI, and CI competencies within 1-2 years, and that these dramatic changes hold for 7 years. So how does this box people? I say the opposite—there is liberation education. We free people to become who they dream of being, but using research to guide the way.

  • What is the difference between the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory and FIRO B exercise that is popularly administered for similar purposes?
    They are two different tests. They test different characteristics. They were developed with different methods. Are bananas and figs different?

  • You have observed that social intelligence turns out to be especially important in crisis situations and highlighted the chemistry of stress. Why is it that social intelligence is of paramount importance during crisis situations?
    People are cognitive hindering during crisis. They do not know how to act or think or even feel. They turn to others for clues. Our mirror neurons fire up and cause us to mimic their emotions. Effective leaders manage their own emotions and therefore have a positive effect on the emotions of others. Ineffective leaders do the opposite and diminish people.

  • It is 7 years since you (along with your co-authors, Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee) published the path-breaking article, “Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance” (HBR, December 2001). How did that research happen and since then how was the momentum for the research’s findings? Have the recent events given new fillip to the research’s underlying ideas?
    The research that went into Primal Leadership (the book) started in 1970 and proceeded until 2001.

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