Nowadays, changes are taking place in political, economic, and social scenarios, and people increasingly adapt quickly to new models of social interaction. Even though these interactions may bring advantages, they also show problems and challenges to overcome. Human behaviors and the complexity of this interaction are some factors that show how leaders should be adaptive and able to be dynamic enough in order to provide positive outcomes. Because the information and the situational understanding change every day, it is essential to have leaders capable of responding to today’s dynamic operational environment.
In this context, emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to manage emotions, control impulses, and maintain optimism in challenging situations. The loss of emotional balance, for example, in a moment of decision, may compromise the entire mission. Thus, being competent at managing information, recognizing possible trends, and reflecting about the impacts and changes in the operational environment, are aspects Army leaders should consider. In addition, Army leaders need to have self-awareness and integrity to remain consistent and in harmony. It must have a balance between attention to themselves and to others to be effective in their actions. For these reasons, emotional intelligence presents itself as one of the most important attributes for today’s Army leaders.
The importance of emotional intelligence
Daniel Goleman (1995) shows that many leaders reach the top of an organization through work, intelligence, and other attributes and competencies. However, currently many fail when they arrive in command functions because at this moment not only the Intelligence Quotient (ability to understand, learn, and apply knowledge in a logical way) is required, but also the Emotional Quotient (ability to identify, evaluate, and control one’s own emotions and be able to assess others’ emotions).
By developing emotional intelligence, leaders motivate, work, and deal positively with their feelings and with the feelings of others, creating interpersonal skills, and building synergy for dialogue, collaboration, and cooperation between parties. In other words, it is the ability to identify and control their own emotions, in order to motivate themselves and to motivate others.
One of the great advantages of people with emotional intelligence is the ability to motivate themselves and move forward, even in the face of frustrations and disappointments. The “control” of emotions and feelings can currently be considered as one of the main assets for personal and professional success. In this way, it is easy to see the importance of emotional intelligence for Army leaders. For the best application of this ability, it is crucial to understand the concepts and skills related to it.
Concept and skills
Daniel Goleman (1995), a renowned professor at Harvard University, teaches that emotional intelligence is “The ability to identify our own feelings and those of others, to motivate ourselves and to manage emotions well within ourselves and in relationships.” According to Goleman (1995), there are five skills that define the human being capable of presenting emotional intelligence: Self-awareness; Self-Control; Empathy; Interpersonal relationships; and Self-motivation.
Army leaders must be able to understand their emotions, those that may lead them to demonstrate their weaknesses, needs, and impulses. This constant self-assessment makes the individual know himself deeply. This way, leaders become skilled enough to overcome situations and stand out positively in times of stress and conflict. In addition, the leaders who are self-aware of their limitations will also predominate over feelings of insecurity and others that generally disturb and hinder decision-making and the effectiveness of actions. Note that we are talking about self-knowledge here. When leaders face difficulties, they must first seek to understand their physical and emotional conditions. They will make decisions in order to enhance alternatives, instead of directly confronting a given problem. As a result, leaders can exercise their self-control, because now they know their weaknesses and strengths.
Self-control is the ability to control emotions and guide them into the decision that the person believes to be wiser, in a specific situation. For Army leaders, it is a very powerful tool, because they are constantly placed in situations of pressure and stress, where their ability to react quickly and control actions should predominate. It is important to emphasize that; firstly, leaders need to remind themselves the importance of knowing themselves (self-awareness). Secondly, what is brought to light is to act, to do what has to be done with prudence and wisdom, demonstrating control of emotions and actions. Often, the negative results achieved are consequences of impulsive acts that, once carried out, are more difficult to rectify. Therefore, it is essential to be empathetic and master instincts and impulses, in order to foster personal and organization success.
Today, society is connected like no other time in history. Human beings are increasingly focused on virtual interaction and may be losing some important feelings related to physical interaction. Consequently, the exercise of the ability to understand others, to face and persist during hardship moments, is a crucial task for Army leaders. Modern life requires adaptable and agile leaders, those who are able to respond to contemporary challenges. In a globalized and constantly changing world, understanding the nuances of communication, such as a long silence, gestures, cultural and ethnic issues that involve human behavior, promotes understanding, dialogue, and collaboration. These are essential features for Army leaders to be one-step ahead in problem solving. The emotional intelligence skill that is directly related to this understanding is empathy. In this scenario, empathy could be defined as the ability to understand and share the thoughts and feelings of another person.
In other words, the more leaders understand their own emotions and know how to deal with them, the more empathetic they will be with others. Consequently, they will provide a more effective approach to deal with daily issues and complex problems. In this context, empathy is a powerful “weapon” for Army leaders to understand, influence, develop interpersonal relationships, and guide their teams to success.
Interpersonal relationships are key for the success of Army leaders and cohesive teams. Obviously, it is a skill connected with other emotional intelligence skills. It is necessary to be empathetic, know yourself, and be able to control your own impulses when dealing with people and develop interpersonal relationships. Army leaders must positively influence the operational environment in which they are inserted. Therefore, they must know how to deal with subordinates’ emotions, in order to provide effective guidance and support them in always doing their best. It’s not about being “popular” or being seen as just nice, it’s about gaining people’s trust by knowing how to listen, intervene with prudence and precision and always have something to offer in support. The ability to navigate beyond physical boundaries, analyze all the variables of the people involved, and take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of relationships is vital to any successful leader. Army leaders who master this skill and are always motivated toward the benefit of the team will contribute decisively to the success of the organization and to their own personal growth.
Emotions have a direct impact on the ability of people to persist, solve problems, and overcome frustrations. With this in mind, it is crucial that Army leaders master their own emotions and be able to self-motivate themselves to overcome challenges, mobilizing positive feelings, and moving away from negative ones. The feeling of belonging to an organization when doing your job, for instance, directly influences the motivation of subordinates. Leaders also find their motivation to keep pushing when they use emotional intelligence to help them. It is about how they approach to solve problems, by behavior, words, and actions. These behaviors, actions, and motivating words are only possible if leaders know and practice emotional intelligence skills.
Emotional intelligence in use
The exercise of the emotional intelligence skills fosters the development of attributes and competencies that expands leaders’ personal power and reinforces positive habits among their team members. There are key achievements for leaders who develop emotional intelligence, such as situational awareness, metacognition, and critical and creative thinking.
Emotional intelligence is a powerful ally of leaders who need to make hard decisions. For this reason, it is relevant to understand, visualize, describe, direct, lead and assess the actions taken. Situational awareness, in this context, is the ability that the leader must have when analyzing any problem.
Leaders develop situational-awareness by constantly exercising emotional intelligence. By the application of emotional intelligence and gaining situational awareness, leaders reduce anxiety, accurately identify problems, and develop effective strategies to approach and solve problems. Achieving situational awareness is strongly related to metacognition or “thinking about thinking.” Being able to analyze thoughts and their consequences before taking action is key to understanding the operational environment, optimizing processes, and making wise decisions.
Metacognition presents itself as another important factor for Army leaders who exercise emotional intelligence. Active control over cognitive processes, such as planning, approaching a given problem, monitoring, and evaluating the progress of actions, are some of the opportunities to use metacognition.
Traditionally, conceptualized as “thinking about thinking,” metacognition consists of carefully analyzing what has already been analyzed, in order to minimize risks and maximize positive results. As already observed, through the exercise of emotional intelligence, Army leaders develop self- awareness, learn how to deal with emotions, understand the importance of self-motivation, and seek to develop empathy and interpersonal relationships. With this in mind, it is easy to understand that Army leaders who use metacognition carefully analyze, more than once, the various possibilities of employment of their troops. In this scenario, it is relevant to consider the importance of critical and creative thinking in this process. In essence, it is feasible to say that one of the legacies of the use of emotional intelligence is the exercise of metacognition.
Critical and creative thinking
Just as metacognition and situational awareness work in concert with emotional intelligence, critical and creative thinking are relevant achievements for Army leaders who develop emotional intelligence. Critical thinking and creative thinking should be used all the time; however, in situations of stress and difficult analysis it is not an easy task. Leaders must be able to think critically and creatively, in order to make the best decision.
According to Helder (2008), Critical and Creative Thinking are defined as “Critical Thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with the aim of improving it.” On the other hand, “Creative Thinking is the ability to combine, transform, or reapply existing ideas, sometimes innovating.”
The use of critical and creative thinking is directly related to the elements of thought that, according to Helder (2008), are used by any person most of the time. These concepts are inherent to human beings that are always looking for reasoning with the intention of analyzing a given situation. The elements of thought are those that are routinely used in this analysis. According to Helder (2008), the elements of thoughts are and may be considered the result of thinking with the intention of analyzing/producing: point of view; purpose, question an issue, information; interpretation and inference; concepts; assumptions; and implications as consequences.
For Army leaders, it is crucial to understand this dynamic and the need for its use, because the contemporary challenges require leaders to behave properly, provide assertive communication, and lead with strength of character in adversities.
Among the attributes that current Army leaders must cultivate and exercise, in order to strengthen their presence and personal power, emotional intelligence is one of the most relevant. By exercising emotional intelligence, Army leaders assume responsibilities and relationships based on trust and teamwork, transforming challenges into opportunities. Emotional intelligence may provide positive gains for Army leaders. Leaders with well-developed emotional intelligence skills produce better results, because they seek to combine logical skills with emotional skills, especially when it comes to trust in people, and collaborate with them in approach and solve complex problems.
The analysis of the impact of properly application of emotion presented in this article does not exhaust this topic. Nonetheless, identifying the importance of this attribute contributes greatly to the development of Army leaders, those who should be tactical and technical proficient, but always remember that the war is a human endeavor. Therefore, Army leaders will be more efficient and effective in their approach and actions. At the same time, as they are able to master their mental habits, they are more productive and, with clarity, wisdom, and prudence, positively influencing their subordinates, peers and superiors.
Although the concept of emotional intelligence is relatively new, the development of cognitive, metacognitive, and emotional skills that enable leaders to become more prepared for contemporary challenges is a priority for Army leaders. Training Army leaders in emotional intelligence is a decisive factor for the accomplishment of missions.
Finally, emotional intelligence is a vital skill for Army leaders who want to act wisely, stimulated by logic and reason; however, without discarding the emotional aspects that involve a specific situation. This way, leaders will not only contribute to the decisiveness of their unit’s mission, but to the well-being of their Soldiers.
*Sergeant Major Clayton Dos Santos is currently instructor of the Department Army Operations at the Sergeants Major Course, Fort Bliss, Texas. His previous assignments were as Operations SGM of the 6th Intelligence Battalion and as Command Sergeant Major of the Battle Staff Course, at the Brazilian Army Advanced NCO School. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources from São Paulo University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Santa Catarina University. He also holds a Master of Business Administration in Leadership and Management, from Santa Catarina University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members.
Autry, James A. The Servant leader. Campinas, SP: Ed. Verus, 2001.
Bolton, Robert. People skills. New York, NY: Library of Congress, 1979.
Helder, Linda; PAUL, Richard. Critical thinking – Concepts and tools. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008.
Brazilian Army. (2011). Military leadership – C 20-10, 2 Edition. Brasília, DF: Army Center of Doctrine.
Brazilian Army. (2014a). EB20-MC-10.211 – Process of planning and conducting Ground Operations, Brasília, DF: Army Center of Doctrine.
Brazilian Army. (2014b). EB 20-MF-10 – Operations. Brasília, DF: Army Center of Doctrine.
Department of the Army. (2019). Army leadership and the profession (ADP 6-22). https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN20039-ADP_6-22-001-WEB-0.pdf
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional intelligence. Rio de Janeiro, RJ: Ed. Objetiva, 1995.
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional intelligence in the formation of a successful leader. Rio de Janeiro, RJ: Ed. Objetiva, 2015.
Grotberg, E.H. Resilience: Discovering your strengths. Porto Alegre, RS: Ed. Artmed, 2005.
Munroe, Myles. The Power of character in Leadership. Rio de Janeiro, RJ: Central Gospel, 2015.
Reivich, K. (2014). Master resilience training Participant Guide Version 3.1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania.
Reivich, K.J., Seligman, M.E.P., & McBride, S. (2011). Master resilience training in the Army. Retrieved from http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/mrtinarmyjan2011.pdf
Reivich K, Shatté A. The resilience factor. 7 essential skills to overcome life’s inevitable obstacles. New York – USA: Broadway Books – Random House; 2002.
Sabbi, Deroni. I feel, therefore I exist. Porto Alegre, RS: Alcance, 1999.