By Steven J. Stein, Ph.D., Special for USDR
When it comes to leadership, two issues should never be compromised — identity and reputation. Identity is how you see yourself and what drives your actions. Reputation is how you are seen by others, and whether you will be accepted, either overtly or covertly. For a politician, reputation really matters. When it becomes damaged, you can’t get elected — or worse, you can get into trouble.
I’ve studied emotional intelligence and how it affects peoples’ behavior for over 20 years. More recently I’ve measured emotional intelligence identity (how one sees oneself) and reputation (how others see you) using data from my company’s surveys — the most widely used measures of emotional intelligence in the world.
From analyzing our research on leaders, we’ve found four essential characteristics of today’s most successful leaders. They need to be authentic, innovative, good coaches, and able to lead with purpose.
In the corporate world we use 360-degree feedback of leaders’ emotional intelligence to help understand their strengths and weaknesses. Although impractical to gather during an election, we did the next best thing. Prior to November’s presidential election, we surveyed 1,000 voters, evenly split among Democrat, Republican, and Independent. After all, it’s the ratings from the voters that would decide the candidate’s fate.
Among the emotional dimensions we measured, the biggest differences seen between the candidates, regardless of party affiliation, were that Hillary Clinton was rated more highly in impulse control, stress tolerance and emotional self-awareness, while Donald Trump was rated more highly in emotional expression, assertiveness and independence. Trump’s high scores in emotional expression, assertiveness and independence, along with lower impulse control, resemble profiles I’ve seen among many of the candidates I’ve assessed as a consultant for reality TV shows.
I believe our culture has been heavily influenced by reality TV. The characterizations we see there have influenced our workplaces, social relationships and home lives. One feature in a number of reality TV shows is the ability to appear authentic, even if you have to lie to stay in the game. Contestants who try to fake it and get caught are usually eliminated.
Our fascination with authenticity goes far beyond reality TV: consider this — while at least half of Americans found many of Trump’s behaviors distasteful, he still managed to captivate a broad swath of the electorate, and many people argued that this was due to his authenticity.
Politicians of all stripes get caught in deception, but some are able to transcend it. Lying and authenticity seem to be different constructs. If you lie, but believe the lie, you can still be considered authentic. If you lie and know you’re lying, or more importantly, other people believe you’re lying (reputation), you’re in trouble.
We seem to have come to a place where we accept that politicians lie to us. There’s nothing surprising about that anymore. In fact, there are many voters who prefer fictional versions of events than the actual truth. What’s really important for leaders is their believability. This gets back to reputation: If a leader is believable, even though it’s proven he or she has lied, we are more willing to go along with it.
Trump’s success or failure as president will likely hinge on how he’s perceived by the American public. While several factors may play into his authenticity, what he himself believes, or even accomplishes, will become less relevant. Low impulse control can be a significant factor in derailing one’s authenticity. However, it’s his reputation — how voters perceive him — that will really matter.
Some time ago, as part of a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news show, I assessed the emotional intelligence of a former Premier of British Columbia, Bill Vander Zalm. Like Trump, Vander Zalm entered politics as a successful businessman whose mission was to clean up the government — in his case the welfare system. His emotional intelligence test scores were high in independence and self-regard, but much lower in impulse control and emotional problem solving. When we discussed his scores, he agreed that his low impulse scores and emotional problem solving likely resulted in his “shooting from the hip” too often with the media (before the days of Twitter). This helped lead to his eventual downfall.
Vander Zalm was forced to resign in disgrace in 1991 when a provincial conflict of interest found he had mixed private business with his public office when he sold one of his theme park properties. He was charged with criminal breach of trust, but found not guilty in B.C. Supreme Court in 1992. However, as is often the case, it’s reputation that seals the fate of most politicians.
Steven Stein, Ph.D., is a leading expert on psychological assessment and emotional intelligence. He is the founder and CEO of Multi-Health Systems, a leading publisher of scientifically validated assessments. Dr. Steven Stein is the author and coauthor of several books on emotional intelligence, including his new book, The EQ Leader: Instilling Passion, Creating Shared Goals, and Building Meaningful Organizations through Emotional Intelligence (Wiley, May 1, 2017), and the international best-seller, The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success. He has consulted for military and government agencies, corporations and professional sports teams. Dr. Stein has also consulted on numerous reality TV shows, providing psychological expertise and candidate screening. He has appeared on more than 100 TV and radio shows throughout North America. For more information, visit