Daniel Goleman, the researcher and author most responsible for popularizing the concept of emotional intelligence, has suggested that the heart of great leadership is the ability to adjust one’s style in order to relate effectively to differing people in differing situations. Supplementing the classic leadership characteristics of vision, innovation, motivating others and exercising effective influence, Goleman emphasizes the importance of appropriateness — what other experts have variously labeled as situational leadership, adaptability, political astuteness or “going with the flow.”
For any leader, adjusting one’s operating style is a lot easier said than done. Most of us have a strong tendency to view the world through a fairly rigid set of lenses and filters, to have a way of explaining and interpreting things that is stable, consistent and, above all,
comfortable. As the maxim puts it, “to a person with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Furthermore, when we then convert our perceptions into action, we tend to retreat to an equally comfortable default style, an automatic way of responding and acting that is shaped by our basic personality type. In leadership terms, this means that many leaders unconsciously bring a “my way” or “one-size-fits-all” approach to any and all situations, whether or not that approach is most effective under the unique circumstances of the moment.