Leadership is more about emotions than accomplishments

leadershipWe talk so much about leadership but rarely about the one thing that makes a difference – emotional engagement.

Here’s a small challenge – make a list of the five leaders that you most admire. They can be from any walk of life, from business, politics, sport, charity. Now ask yourself why you admire them?

The chances are high that your admiration is based on more than their accomplishments, impressive as those may be. The chances are that everyone on your list reaches you on an emotional level. When EP wrote its book on leadership, one leading hotelier remarked: “Those leaders that you remember are those that possess conviction. They inspire because they believe in something beyond the average.”

Another remarked: “We all strive to inspire our customers and in turn we seek inspiration from our leaders – something that will unlock our ability to excite our customer.”

Leadership is about the most subjective traits within a person. Ken McCullough will often say that he designs hotels for women because if they are happy, then the chances are the man will be happy.


If one looks at the legacy of JFK as one of the great presidents, one has to ask whether it is based on his achievements or based on the fact that he personified something new and exciting which people wanted to believe in. So what traits do great leaders possess that make them stand apart?

Emotional intelligence

Great leaders understand empathy and have the ability to read people’s (sometimes unconscious, often unstated) needs and desires. This allows them to speak to these needs. When people feel they are understood and empathised with, they respond and a bond is formed.

Continuous learning

One of the great learnings from writing the book was that success often came from failure and the ability to learn. Leaders are rarely satisfied with the status quo and welcome new knowledge and fresh input. It’s all about change and reinvention. Too many others stand still.


Great leaders respond to each challenge with a fresh eye. They know that what worked in one situation maybe useless in another.

Letting go

Too many people think leadership is about control. In fact, great leaders inspire, provide a frame work and then let their teams operate. They know that talented people don’t need or want hovering managers. Leadership is about influence, guidance, and support, not control.


Not a week goes by that we don’t hear about a leader losing credibility because he or she was dishonest. Often this is because of pressure to try and ‘measure up ’and it’s not coming from a place of being real – often this relates to fear of not being accepted for one’s true self. We live in age of extra ordinary transparency, where it is nearly impossible to hide anything, to not be genuine and authentic. Teams will forgive their leaders mistakes if they are genuine.

Kindness and respect

One of those horrible phrases is that ‘nice leaders’ finish last. It just is not true. Because the world is transparent, those that display kindness and respect will finish first again. Ignorance and arrogance are traits for short-lived leaders. Those that have lasted the test of time will possess strong relationships which will be based on giving to others. It is this giving to others that leads to respect.


People’s jobs and careers are integral to their lives. The more your organisation can make them a partner, the more they will deliver good results. This means, to the greatest extent possible, communicating your organisation’s strategies, goals and challenges. This builds a mark of respect. People won’t be distracted by setbacks if they’re in the loop.

People are the core of any business

As I said above, people’s careers are a big part of their lives and they want to be successful at work. They do not mind tough leadership if the leader will make them successful.

Leadership is both an art and a science. It cannot be learned from textbooks. Everyone has to develop his or her own individual leadership style, but it is all about emotion.

About the author
Ben V Butler writes for eHotelier’s sister print title EP Business in Hospitality.

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