Caring Leaders, Better Results

Showing a genuine interest in teammates isn't just about being nice, it can increase productivity and reduce employee turnover, says emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

Lauren was a publicist at a PR firm. She was pleasantly surprised when Jabir, her new boss, offered to give her some pointers on a client he’d worked with previously. Lauren’s coworkers were similarly surprised that Jabir asked them about their families and invited them out for lunch to get to know each other better.

The team’s previous boss had promoted a cut-throat culture. He seemed to enjoy pitting the publicists against one another to bring in bigger, higher-paying clients. While this culture of fear and competition initially yielded a profitable clientele, the stress it created ultimately led to disengagement and resentment.

More than one talented publicist left the firm, and several others were hoping to find work elsewhere. Indeed, Korn Ferry research has found that leaders who create a negative emotional climate are most likely to have direct reports who plan to leave the company within the year.

By the time Jabir came onboard, the firm was struggling to keep its existing clients and employees. Lauren had just received a job offer from one of the firm’s competitors. But Jabir’s commitment to creating a positive and healthy culture caused her to stay and help him get the firm back on track.

A leader’s concern for others all too often gets sidelined in today’s high-pressure business world. Many leaders assume high pressure yields high productivity, when in fact the opposite is true. Emotionally intelligent leaders who cultivate a positive culture increase engagement and productivity while reducing turnover and health problems among employees.

All of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies under the relationship management domain necessitate a caring attitude. Leaders with strengths in these competencies­–including coach and mentor, teamwork, and inspirational leadership–truly care for their employees. They cultivate an atmosphere of cooperation and have a genuine interest in helping others. And they inspire their team through a shared mission and common purpose.

Increasingly robust evidence shows that caring is a basic human propensity. A study of preverbal infants found that nearly all infants reach for a friendly, altruistic puppet over puppets who are selfish and aggressive. In this way, compassion represents an innate competence that we can strengthen, not a new skill.

In the workplace, positive practices have been found to increase productivity and organizational performance. Positive practices include empathic support, a respectful environment, and meaningful work. There is not one single trick for leaders here. Rather, a combination of positive practices has the most potent impact on team morale and organizational outcomes.

Leaders who exemplify these positive values most effectively apply positive practices. For example, leaders can guide their team to establish positive norms, offer training opportunities, and align the organization’s mission with daily realities. Setting a positive tone for your team has an amplifying effect: it produces positive emotions in individuals. After all, emotions of all kinds can be contagious. When one employee experiences gratitude–as Lauren did when Jabir offered her guidance–it enhances trust and begins a mutual cycle of positivity. Positive practices also have a buffering effect. Caring teams handle work-related stress better and prevent unproductive conflict.

While cut-throat cultures may succeed in the short term, caring creates long-term success. By setting a positive tone, leaders can bolster their employees’ well-being, teamwork, and engagement, as well as overall organizational performance. 


Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.