Send to

Choose Destination
Harv Bus Rev. 2008 Sep;86(9):74-81, 136.

Social intelligence and the biology of leadership.

Author information

Rutgers University's Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA.


A decade ago in these pages, Goleman published his highly influential article on emotional intelligence and leadership. Now he, a cochair of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and Boyatzis, a professor at Case Western, extend Goleman's original concept using emerging research about what happens in the brain when people interact. Social intelligence, they say, is a set of interpersonal competencies, built on specific neural circuits, that inspire people to be effective. The authors describe how the brain's mirror neurons enable a person to reproduce the emotions she detects in others and, thereby, have an instant sense of shared experience. Organizational studies document this phenomenon in contexts ranging from face-to-face performance reviews to the daily personal interactions that help a leader retain prized talent. Other social neurons include spindle cells, which allow leaders to quickly choose the best way to respond to someone, and oscillators, which synchronize people's physical movements. Great leaders, the authors believe, are those whose behaviors powerfully leverage this complex system of brain interconnectedness. In a handy chart, the authors share their approach to assessing seven competencies that distinguish socially intelligent from socially unintelligent leaders. Their specific advice to leaders who need to strengthen their social circuitry: Work hard at altering your behavior. They share an example of an executive who became socially smarter by embracing a change program that comprised a 360-degree evaluation, intensive coaching by an organizational psychologist, and long-term collaboration with a mentor.


stronger relationships with higher-ups and subordinates, better performance of her unit, and a big promotion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center