Return to Thinking Skills page

empty space

Emotional Competence and Leadership

by LT Greg Stump, Graduate Student, Leadership Studies, University of San Diego

In the last decade, shrinking budgets, technological advances, globalization and increased competition have forced revolutionary changes in the way we lead. In order to stay competitive and be perceived as valuable by the American public and congress, we, as individuals, should reevaluate the competencies we consider essential for effective leadership. In many organizations, IQ and technical competence are no longer the benchmarks for successful leadership within the ranks of middle and upper management.

Leadership experts have written volumes about emotional competence since the early 1990s. Emotional competence, also referred to as “emotional intelligence,” “emotional quotient” and “successful intelligence,” determines our ability to effectively and successfully lead our teams.

Qualities and Traits

What are the qualities that make up emotional competence? The Goleman emotional intelligence model is comprised of the five components listed below, each followed by associated traits. The first three relate to self-management; the last two determine how effective we are in relationships.

  1. Self-awareness: accurate self-assessment, emotional awareness and self-confidence
  2. Self-regulation: innovation, adaptability, conscientiousness, trustworthiness and self-control
  3. Motivation: optimism, commitment, initiative and achievement drive
  4. Empathy: developing others, service orientation, political awareness, diversity, active listening and understanding others
  5. Social skills: communication, influence, conflict management, leadership, bond building, collaboration, cooperation and team capabilities

Experts say that the ratio of importance between emotional and technical competence is approximately two to one. That is not to say that technical expertise is unimportant. However, our junior officers and enlisted personnel are often the technical experts. These specialists conduct boat operations, keep our infrastructure operational, and complete many of the day-to-day tasks that require specialized training. As we climb the organizational ladder, we become more responsible for leading, motivating, internal and external collaboration, and team building. Consequently, emphasis is placed on interdependent rather than singular action.

Coast Guard Culture

Does the Coast Guard culture promote emotional competence? For officers, it appears to do so. The officer evaluation report consists of 18 performance items. If we place each performance item into one of two categories: emotional competence or technical competence, 12 items fall into the former category, and five into the latter. One performance item, results/effectiveness, could be included in both. It appears that the OER confirms an emotional to technical competence ratio of more than two to one.

What is the significance of emotional competence to the Coast Guard? Coast Guard employees wishing to climb the organizational ladder will have a greater chance of success if they hone their emotional competencies. Individual success, based on emotional competence, will then help increase effectiveness for the Coast Guard as a whole.