Book of the week: Room at the top

The New Leaders
By Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee
Little, Brown pound;17.99

I've recently been in a position to observe a head as he's dealt with the effects on his school of the grave illness of a long-serving and much-loved teacher. To see him thoughtfully working his way through this - searching inside himself for what to say and write to colleagues, children and parents; balancing the desire to be positive with the need to avoid raising false hopes; always self-questioning ("that seemed the right thing to do, don't you think?") - has been a privilege, because I know I couldn't have done it nearly as well. The reason, I'm sure, is that he knows instinctively what Daniel Goleman says in his latest book: that "great leadership works through the emotions".

Goleman gives his own example of a leader tackling a crisis. Of Mark Loehr, manager of a US firm that lost people on September 11, he writes: "Over the following days Loehr was there as people wept together. Every night at 9.45 he sent out an email to the entire company about the personal side of the ongoing events. even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could".

Some people will say that Goleman, starting with his landmark book Emotional Intelligence in 1995, has been telling us nothing we don't know. But that's one of his strengths. Thirty years ago I learned from an elderly professor of philosophy at Birmingham University that the best poems, stories, lectures and books hold up before us the things with which, deep down, we are familiar. He illustrated the point one day by sitting back and growling the opening of the old and oft-recorded jazz standard "Don't Get Around Much Anymore": "Missed the Saturday dance Heard they crowded the floor Couldn't bear it without you Don't get around much anymore." Four short lines that, to those in whom they evoke instant recognition, are worth a whole treatise on the nature of unrequited love.

So, when Goleman says, as he did in one of his many interviews, "Emotional intelligence is a different way of being smart. It includes knowing what your feelings are and using your feelings to make good decisions in life," you recognise that it's what you as a citizen, a parent or a teacher have been feeling in your bones throughout your adult life.

How many times have we met the clever person who cannot get on with other people, or bring up children, or teach them, or even deal with his or her own feelings?

Goleman wasn't the first academic to try to identify and define those vital "other" abilities. The pioneering psychologist Edward Thorndike was in 1920 already defining "social intelligence" as "the ability to understand and manage men and women, boys and girls to act wisely in human relations".

This is a heartening, useful, encouraging book that will first confirm for good leaders that what they are doing is probably right, then give them more to think about. As consultant Martin Skelton puts it: "Goleman provides justification for those who have been criticised for working in the way he advocates, and gives a framework for those who want to try his approach. He is this generation's articulator of what we've always known to be true."

To read this review in full see Friday Magazine in this week's TES.

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