The Secret Skills of High Achievers

The top leaders learn to lean on these skills despite day-to-day challenges, writes 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. 

If you’re like me, you know leaders who exemplify achievement. Perhaps you’re one of them. These leaders work hard and smartly to reach their goals, excel in their fields, and rise to higher levels in their organizations. You also probably know people who seemed unstoppable in their rise but who stalled. While there could be many reasons for such downturns, when I see someone in that predicament, I think about their Emotional Intelligence.

Some aspects of my model of Emotional and Social Intelligence are fairly obvious. Of course, an emotionally intelligent person needs to be self-aware, have effective control of their emotions, and be able to empathize with others. Yet those are just three of 12 competencies my colleagues and I consider core Emotional Intelligence skills for any leader.

What is Achievement Orientation?

Those with a high level of Achievement Orientation set high standards for themselves. They strive to improve their own performance by working toward measurable yet challenging goals. They have a passion for their work and explore new approaches to it, measure their performance, and stay optimistic.

But there’s a catch; they need balance. Leaders skilled at this competency are able to use their personal drive to help a group or organization advance toward its goals. They’re not just thinking about themselves. They can step back, see the larger effort, and succeed at what is needed. To do this, leaders need to draw on complementary competencies like Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Empathy, along with Organizational Awareness, Coach and Mentor, and Teamwork.

Each provides skills to balance the drive to achieve. With Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, leaders recognize and manage their frustrations with others who aren’t as inclined to push hard. Empathy helps them understand how others think and feel. Organizational Awareness provides the big picture of the team or organization and factors contributing to its performance. The Coach-and-Mentor and Teamwork competencies highlight skills in helping others work toward their own goals alongside the larger system’s goals.   

It’s a multi-layered awareness and not an easy one to master when you think about the day-to-day challenges leaders experience. Every leader wants to be a star performer.

How to develop balance

The first step to balancing an overactive drive to achieve is to recognize it. The second step is to assess other skills that provide balance. The best way to understand our Emotional Intelligence is to get feedback from others whom we respect and trust, and who see us in action at work. That’s why Richard Boyatzis and I, along with Korn Ferry, helped develop the Emotional and Social Competencies Inventory, a 360-degree instrument. With ESCI, leaders hear from their colleagues about how well they’re doing with each of the 12 competencies. The third step? Work on your own or with a coach to enhance your EI competencies.

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