Daniel Goleman: Wise Leaders Focus on the Greater Good

Our times require leaders who are not only intelligent, but wise. Wise leaders develop strategies that target the greater good, not just an organization or individual. The more that companies, communities and the world-at-large appoint such leaders, the better off we will be. And the more skilled we become at spotting the potential for such influence in younger generations – and helping them cultivate these qualities – the better our future looks.

I’m inspired by the words of Larry Brilliant, President of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, a group working to prevent worldwide crises like pandemics and global warming. He says: “Civilizations should be judged not by how they treat people closest to power, but rather how they treat those furthest from power – whether in race, religion, gender, wealth, or class – as well as in time.”

It’s evident to me that the best leaders act from aspirations beyond the goals or boundaries of one organization or group, but rather seek to heal humanity as a whole. I think of Paul Polman, Bill Gates in the philanthropic phase of his career, or Muhammad Yunus founding the Grameen Bank as exemplars.

These leaders are attuned to the suffering of the powerless, and seek to repair that damage by treating or attempting to cure diseases that plague the poor, enhancing the viability of local communities, or fighting poverty. And the impacts of their work will matter far into the future.

Wise leaders implicitly follow a dictum that I heard articulated by the Dalai Lama at an MIT conference on global systems. He suggested that when we are making decisions or considering courses of action, we should ask ourselves: Who benefits? Is it just ourselves, or a group? Just one group, or everyone? And just for the present, or also for the future?

By recognizing the far-reaching repercussions of their actions, these leaders engage people’s passion and foster organizations where work has deeper meaning.

Jobs then become ‘good work,’ an exhilarating situation where people’s best skills are engaged fully, their focus heightened, and their labor aligned with their values. Such workplaces are potent magnets for the next generation of remarkable leaders.

Learn more about effective leadership traits in my latest book What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters.


Further reading:

Traits of a Motivated Leader

How Leaders Overcome Obstacles for Change

The Active Ingredients for Innovation

Understanding the Science of Moods at Work

Additional Resources:

Today’s Leadership Imperative with Howard Gardner

Talent Strategy with Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

High Performance Leadership with George Kohlrieser

Resonant Leadership: Inspiring Others Through Emotional Intelligence

Leading the Necessary Revolution: Building Alignment in Your Business for Sustainability

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