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Changing the world...through high EQ leadership

Dean Bob Joss, speaking in Hong Kong last month, explained that senior managers of major organizations are the key to solving global problems including poverty, pollution, and infectious disease.

All these problems are so huge that they need to be addressed by large groups of people under the guidance of extraordinary and inspiring leaders.

Said Joss: "The selection [of employees], the development of team work, the giving of feedback, the growth of people are the hardest things to achieve because all people are different; it's not a technical problem to be solved. It takes a lot of emotional intelligence, and that's a hard thing for people to develop. It's much easier to develop technical and cognitive skills."

To boil it down to elevator pitch length: emotional intelligence (sometimes called EQ) combined with leadership skills will drive global innovation. The conundrum is that teaching leadership EQ is tough. Doing it well is the business school equivalent of scaling Everest.

Back when I was a student, the mainstay of our EQ training was Interpersonal Dynamics, the infamous but incredible course lovingly known as Touchy Feely. The teaching of leadership at the GSB has evolved since my day and now, in addition to the ever-popular Touchy Feely course, encompasses a multi-modal strategy that includes role-playing, interactive lectures, small group discussions, and coaching. Then there's the executive challenge, the event that brings together first year MBA students and notable alumni for a real-world exercise in managing the pricklier issues that confront CEOs every day.

Last night, I was watching the Leadership in Focus video vignettes that the Center for Leadership Development and Research (CLDR) has created to facilitate leadership training. The vignettes portray managers discussing topics such as implementing change, making good decisions, and building teams. Not all the managers chose the optimal alternatives or achieved success.

These video cases are not explicitly about leadership EQ, but EQ inevitably creeps in. As I watched these videos, I realized that I was reacting more to the interpersonal vibes emanating from the managers than to the content. Some of the managers were able to step outside their own perspectives and understand the issues, personal and professional, that others were facing. Others were unable to make that transition to the point of seeming downright callous. I found myself disagreeing with their choices and thinking: "glad that's not my boss." Their lack or inability to connect with and inspire their subordinates led to rifts that could not be easily mended.

Here at the Stanford GSB, our innovative leadership training challenges students to question their assumptions, to step outside the boxes they have constructed for themselves, to reach out to others, and to embrace a broader understanding of the world around them, both literally and figuratively. The two-year MBA program enables students to begin a process of self-examination and transformation that will allow them to become the kind of innovative, principled, and insightful leaders who will change the world. Part of our mission at Stanford.

For more information on the CLDR, see

--JoAnne Goldberg