Servant leadership and emotional intelligence have arrived

A recent headline from NBC Sports: “After Chip Kelly, Eagles looking for coach with ‘emotional intelligence.’”

No, your eyes are not deceiving you! The Philadelphia Eagles football team owner, Jeff Lurie, announced during a press conference that the next coach he hires for the team will value emotional intelligence.

Football players may want to be led, but they also want to be valued, or their affection and attention will last as long as the good fortune it takes to win on a regular basis, the article about the Eagles’ coaching search said.

This statement could be said of any of us. We want to be valued. We want to be “seen.” Leaders who demonstrate emotional intelligence and business cultures that value emotional intelligence combined with a model of servant leadership are increasingly demonstrating greater success.

Emotional intelligence and servant leadership have been making their way slowly into the mainstream of our business communities. It has not been an easy journey. There are still some who will ridicule and dismiss them, choosing instead intimidation and authoritarianism, usually motivated by fear. Emotional intelligence and servant leadership present another way.

Barsade and O’Neill, authors of an article in the January-February 2016 edition of the Harvard Business Review titled: “Manage Your Emotional Culture” have found that “emotional culture influences employee satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, and even ‘hard’ measures such as financial performance and absenteeism. So when managers ignore or fail to understand it, they’re glossing over a vital component of what makes organizations tick, and their companies suffer as a result.”

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, understand and manage one’s emotions, and have the capacity to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others. When utilized for good, it is manifested in servant leadership. Like emotional intelligence, we are hearing the servant leadership model being touted in many for-profit organizations, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

Recently, I listened to a recording of a leader talking about what it means to him to be a servant leader, and what led him into the servant leadership model.

Joe is a senior leader in a prominent billion dollar construction company. This is a company that has embraced servant leadership and emotional intelligence. In his presentation, he shared his story of growth and transformation, from a “command and control” leader to a servant leader. He developed his “macho-ism” over the years. Within the construction industry, that has been an accepted style of leadership, and within his previous work environment, it was expected. Joe enjoyed the bravado. He enjoyed the illusion of power…and then two significant events shifted his experience and his belief system about true leadership.

When his boss threatened his job if he did not travel out of town on the first day of school for his six-year-old son, Joe realized that the way he was being intimidated was exactly what he had been doing with those who reported to him. He vowed to change that.

The second event was witnessing the tragic death of an employee on a job site; a man much like himself, with a wife and two young children. He realized the people who reported to him had hopes and dreams like he did; they had families and struggles, and they had the desire to do good work. He began to think of himself as a leader who was called to serve others rather than control others. He began to have conversations with his direct reports about their aspirations. He invited their participation in the work process, and he was introduced to the principles of servant leadership.

There are leaders who are emotionally intelligent…who are not servant leaders. We may recognize them in the political discourse during the next number of weeks.

However, all servant leaders have highly developed emotional intelligence. Servant leaders:

  • Desire to serve others.
  • Have a deep sense of self-awareness.
  • Listen intently to others.
  • Strive to understand and empathize with others.
  • Forgive mistakes.
  • Commit to the growth of others.
  • Build community.

Emotional intelligence and servant leadership have traveled parallel paths during the past decade. They have survived harsh criticism and rejection. They are finally receiving the recognition and appreciation they deserve. They have found their way into education, health care, manufacturing, finance, the military….and yes, even into sports.
What philosophy of leadership do you aspire to? How is it working for you?

-Karen Vernal is the president of Vernal Management Consultants LLC, a Milwaukee-based leadership and organizational firm dedicated to “igniting the spirits and skills of leaders.” The company is one of two firms in the nation to be certified in emotional intelligence through the Institute of Health and Human Potential. For more information, visit

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Karen Vernal is executive vice president and chief dreamer for Vernal, LLC (, a Milwaukee based leadership and human resource firm, dedicated to “igniting the spirit and skills of leaders.” As an executive coach/consultant, she was recognized by the Green Bay Packers for her guidance in their organizational planning process. She was also the recipient of the 2011 Marquette University Leadership Excellence Award.

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