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Using Emotionally Intelligent Leadership as a Framework

Civic Engagement Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement
June 4, 2018 Jaime Russell Office of Student Leadership and Engagement University of North Carolina Wilmington

For Engaging Students in Social Justice Conversations

The Social Change Model of Leadership (Komives & Wagner, 2017) is traditionally seen as the “go to” framework when creating programs intended for college student development with regard to civic learning and democratic engagement in a co-curricular setting.  And rightly so, since the model centers on leadership being socially responsible, collaborative, a process (not a position), inclusive and accessible to all people, and values based; and it also recognizes that community involvement and service are powerful vehicles for leadership (Komives & Wagner, 2017, p.10).  I’d like to suggest another model, with several similarities, through which we might also approach our CLDE work: Emotionally Intelligent Leadership.

Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of emotional intelligence almost 20 years ago in his Harvard Business Review article “Leadership That Gets Results”, and Shankman and Allen went on to operationalize the concept for college students in 2008 with “Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: A Guide for College Students” and a second edition was published in 2015.  There are additional resources to support the guide, including an inventory, workbook, and facilitation/activity guide, but the guidebook alone serves as a powerful tool for developing a foundation for exploring social justice topics with college students.

Similar to the Social Change Model of Leadership (SCM), Emotionally Intelligent Leadership (EIL) focuses on three facets: Consciousness of Self, Consciousness of Others, and Consciousness of Context.  The model is also centered on the following “ten truths” that are foundational to leadership: 1.) Leadership is art and science, 2.) Leadership can be learned and developed, 3.) Leadership is available to all, 4.) Leadership does not require a title or position, 5.) Leadership is more than the leader, 6.) Leadership involves bringing about positive change, 7.) Leadership is an interpersonal activity, 8.) No theory is the best theory, 9.) Leadership can be stressful, difficult, and even dangerous, and 10.) Leadership requires inner work.  Again, there are similarities to the SCM, so it should be of no surprise that Susan Komives wrote the forward to the second edition of the book.  A full list of all nineteen capacities within the three facets can be found in figure 1.     

Consciousness of self is critical; we cannot understand others unless we first understand ourselves.  Being authentic, understanding our emotions and regulating them, as well as being optimistic and taking initiative, are all critical to social justice work.  We must help students understand who they are and how to manage their emotions; self-awareness has to be a priority and one that includes reflection.

Consciousness of others is a bit more challenging in that we now have to take others emotions into consideration.  For some students, they are eager to dive into relationships with others and collectively advocate for change.  For others, working with others conflicts with their traditional notions of leadership and causes unease.  The beauty of EIL is that it acknowledges that conflict comes with the territory, but if we choose to see the potential in our differences and view them as assets rather than barriers, we will be stronger because of them.  Displaying empathy, coaching others, demonstrating citizenship, and managing conflict will result in positive change.

And finally, understanding the environment and the people, politics, and power of a situation all impact how the process of leadership for social change unfolds.  How engaged are students in conversations about social justice at your institution?  I’m sure it varies by demographic identity, and it likely looks different depending on your institution type and location as well as the history surrounding student advocacy on your campus.  How do we engage more students in these conversations?  A first step is to provide the venue for them to explore the intrapersonal and interpersonal natures of leadership, all while providing historical context of various issues and linking it to current events.  

In the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement at UNCW, our first step to engage students in these conversations was to create a Leadership Workshop Series that focuses on EIL.  Our fall 2017 calendar connected to several specific topics and included the following: EIL and Identity Intersections (partnership with our African American Cultural Center), EIL and Political Ideologies (partnership with our Political Science department), EIL and Gender Identities/Sexual Orientations (partnership with our LGBTQIA Resource Center), and EIL and Military Affiliations (partnership with our Military Affairs Office).  Our attendance was not as strong as we had hoped during the fall semester, so in an effort to meet our students where they currently are developmentally we adjusted our offerings for the spring semester to make them a bit more generalized. However, we still included various social justice topics and examples within the content of each.  Our spring calendar included the following topics: Inspiring Others, Building Teams, Managing Conflict, Coaching and Mentoring Others, Cultivating Resiliency, and Authentic Leadership.  We saw an increase in workshop attendance this past semester, and we plan to continue our series into the 2018-2019 academic year.  

In closing, I encourage you to think how you might demonstrate the Civic Ethos of your campus while at the same time developing the Civic Agency of your students through co-curricular leadership programs that are centered on models other than the Social Change Model of Leadership.  You might be surprised at the possibilities that a new framework may provide when exploring social justice topics with students. 


Goleman, D. (January 01, 2000). Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, 78, 2,78-90.

Komives, S. R., & Wagner, W. (2017). Leadership for a better world: Understanding the social change model of leadership development.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Shankman, M. L., Allen, S. J., Haber-Curran, P., & Komives, S. R. (2015). Emotionally intelligentleadership: A guide for students.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.