Published: 2009-05-30
Irene Kuchner

(a summary of Martin Newman’s ‘Emotional Capitalists’)

The concept of emotional intelligence was initially developed by psychologists John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, of Yale University. Reuven Bar-On worked independently on the concept he called ‘emotional quotient’ and first coined the term ‘EQ’ in the early 1980s. The idea was popularised by American journalist Daniel Goleman who wrote the first best-selling book on the subject. Goleman summarised that emotionally intelligent people finish first by almost every standard used to measure business success. It was the appearance of the new idea of being emotionally intelligent as being smart that is more important for success than IQ or technical expertise. High emotional intelligence has become associated with successful leadership.

What really differentiates great leaders from everyone else? Martin Newman in his book ‘Emotional capitalists’ summarised the research into personal qualities of successful leaders and found that they scored high on self-reliance, assertiveness and optimism. Newman pointed out that these three competencies enable leaders to model self-assured behaviour; communicate a clear view of the organisation’s vision and direction; inspire the confidence of others; and deal with setbacks in a positive, constructive way. He has stressed that self-reliance is the most important signature strength for creating emotional capital. It involves two emotional competencies: self-reliance – the recognition that you are a complete and self-directed individual and have the ability to make decisions; and self-belief – the ability to have confidence in your judgement and the readiness to take action to achieve your goals. Leader’s job is to generate the basic attitude of the group and direct the decision making process without turning into a corporate megaphone. Their self-reliance involves being able to control where you devote your most productive emotional and intellectual energy, and model self-assured behaviour. This communicates a clear view of the organisation’s vision and direction, and inspires confidence in others.

The most basic difficulty in becoming self-reliant is overcoming dependency and feelings of insecurity. Human fears like those of failure, or being judged, or being involved in confrontation and cause disharmony are usually in the root of feeling insecure. Newman argues that the way of getting yourself out of this paralysing state is to shift focus from pleasing others and worrying about their potential judgements to trusting their own views and communicate them clearly. Straightforward and respectful manner of communication demonstrates responsibility for her/his own views and behaviour and enables them to allow others to do the same, in other words ‘have little interest in proving themselves, but a continuous interest in expressing themselves’.

Self-reliance arises from a deep trust in your strength to face your responsibilities head-on and overcome patterns of dependency that have controlled your performance in the past. Newman offers: ‘Pause for a moment and become aware of how often you experience the emotional desire to remain dependant and escape from responsibility’. It can lead to paralysis in decision making or to acting impulsively – both techniques are to avoid responsible, thoughtful choice. It was Plato who said that every human being is fighting the battle between the two parts of themselves – the child and the adult. The child remains controlled by fear and insecurity and wants to remain dependent on other adults. The adult part wants to overcome fears and act freely and creatively. So at each moment we choose whether to allow the child or the adult to determine our thoughts and actions. ‘We can all find reasons to blame others for our circumstances and even for our personalities, but in reality you never actually give away responsibility. The only thing you really give away is control. If you try to make someone or something else responsible, you end up giving him or her, or it, control over your emotions. You are still completely responsible, but by giving up control you lose your ability to direct your life and lead effectively’ (Newman, 2007). In addition to strengthening the leadership presence, building emotional self reliance frees up a lot of creative energy. As self-confidence builds, so does trusting, more innovative ideas and taking risks. This is the expected pay-off of becoming more independent.

Another of valuable emotional skills is assertiveness. It is fundamentally a communicative strategy driven by marketing principles. In other words, it is not just about finding the middle ground between being aggressive and passive, neither just about managing conflict. In business world it is about selling your ideas and views to all of your customers, even when they don’t agree with them or actively resist them. Newman argues that assertiveness involves two competencies. The first competency involves giving clear messages that help people focus on what needs to be done. First, Newman points, effective leader has to recognise own values, beliefs and assumptions and communicate a message consistent with them. Leader’s views must represent things they deeply care about. In this way he or she will have emotional power and lasting motivation to draw from them. The second principle of marketing the message involves recognising where the value lies for the customers and colleagues as people have fundamental need to understand what’s in it for them. The third principle that supports assertive communication involves recognising end acknowledging the emotional contract operating between people. Emotional contracts are the unwritten set of expectations and assumptions that hold people in relationship with other people and the organisation. These expectations usually involve the psychological and emotional connections, such as trust, confidence and empathy.

The second competency underlying assertiveness is self-control, i.e. ability to control negative feelings. Every destructive emotion that we experience as adults, we had to learn. It starts in childhood through the process of imitation, practice, repetition and reinforcement. Since negative emotions are learned, like most things, they can be unlearned and their effect on behaviour minimised. Newman stresses ‘Be clear about what you want and take responsibility for your own feelings. Remember that they are your own feelings and nobody can make you feel mad, bad or sad without your permission’.

Optimism is perhaps the most important quality to achieve great success. Optimistic leaders can see the big picture and have a vision of where they are going. They make good use of three strategies: first, they look for benefit in every situation, especially when they experience setbacks. Second, optimists seek the valuable lesson in every problem or difficulty. They are driven by question ‘What can I learn from a situation that will make me better next time I face it?’. Emotional capitalists, Newman says, are constantly reviewing the best parts of their performance and making plans to repeat those actions again. Third, optimistic leaders focus on the task to be accomplished rather than on negative emotions such as disappointment or fear. No matter what happens, they are committed to finding answers and possess confident expectations of success.

The way we interpret the event is under our control and a matter of our choice. We determine how we are going to feel and react by how we choose to explain as situation to ourselves. When we respond in a negative or angry way to a problem or difficulty, we trigger a series of nervous reactions that shut down the most creative parts of our brain. When our mind is calm and clear, we will be more creative and alert. We will also be more likely to see alternative ways to solve problems, and keep moving towards accomplishing our goals.

‘Every experience is a positive experience if I view it as an opportunity for growth and self-mastery, it will help me to control my emotions, thereby building my emotional capital’ –Martin Newman.


Newman, M. (2007). Emotional capitalists. The new leaders. Jossey-Bass, Wiley Imprint.