As a consultant, I have worked with many large, medium and small sized not-for-profit organizations. When I begin to work with an organization, I typically start by getting a read on the organizational leadership and the culture. I’ve experienced cultures that breed success and those where people struggle. I’ve spent a lot of time considering what makes the difference and have come to believe that emotional intelligence is an essential ingredient in creating a culture that allows staff to grow, develop and be truly empowered.

I see emotional intelligence as the ability to perceive accurately, appraise effectively, interact through positive relationships and handle and deal with stress effectively. It’s clear to me that the combination of effective emotional intelligence and strong leadership abilities contribute immeasurably to a healthy organizational culture, particularly when the organization’s basic values, attitudes, beliefs and principles are articulated clearly and lived day by day.

Most leaders will tell me their greatest asset is their people. They recognize that, while technology and tools are important, these alone will not enable progress. Saying that an organization’s greatest asset is “the people” rolls off the tongue so easily, but often, when one peels away the layers of the onion, it’s clear the culture of the organization doesn’t necessarily reflect a “people are our greatest asset” belief.

When encountering a new organization, I often hear the “right things” but as I continue in my work, I seek to see and experience the organization’s culture though the eyes of staff, board members or community stakeholders. What I often see are deficits that translate into a less than healthy culture and management that don’t see what is really happening.

In the past year, I met an Executive Director who, at first glance, seemed disorganized and somewhat scattered. I was concerned that my work would be far more complex than anticipated. However, within weeks it became clear that this individual was one of the most effective leaders I have ever encountered. He understood, with amazing clarity, the strengths of his staff, ensuring that they were placed in the organization where they would not only perform and grow, but would contribute to sustaining and growing an already healthy culture. The organization’s policies, practices and strategies were clear and leading edge, his management process and style were open and encouraging, his people were loyal to the mission and vision.

In summary, he was enthusiastic, energizing, inclusive and visionary. He clearly scored very high on the EI continuum and as a result, his organizational culture was strong and impressive.

As a smaller organization that doesn’t have a high profile, it might not be immediately recognized as highly successful. But to me, it’s an excellent prototype of a highly successful organization where effective emotional intelligence, transformational leadership capacity comes together to produce a highly effective culture where the organization’s greatest asset really is their people.

Increasingly, the importance and impact of effective emotional intelligence is being recognized as more and more organizations discover how it can improve, and even transform, organizational culture.




 by Susan Bihun
NFP Governance & Management

Visit for other ideas and opinions from our Principals on a range of topics. Their views are their own and do not necessarily represent The Osborne Group’s perspective. The Osborne Group provides interim executive management, consulting and project support across all sectors and over a broad scope of service areas.