It's interesting to watch the leadership styles of certain top CEOs and see how much they've discarded traditional organizational structures. Certain concepts like "command and control," "chains of command," or "spans of influence" seem archaic.

Any human organization is dynamic; it pulses with constructive and destructive energies throughout the day, week and month. Where traditionally managers have sought to harness the energy, contemporary managers are learning that productive management often has a lot to do more with self-management.

The skills born of emotional intelligence create models of preferred behavior and can often be summarized as being:

  • Self-awareness - Our own unique ability to understand our individual tendencies, perceive our emotional state and proceed to behave in certain ways.
  • Social awareness - The ability to recognize other people's emotions and inner thoughts. This, coupled with self-awareness, comes in particularly helpful with relationship management.
  • Self-management - Being able to keep flexible and aware of our own emotional state so as to insure positive and constructive behavior.

Notice that these characteristics are soft skills, but they inform how well leaders make decisions, tolerate stress, and manage time, among many other things. These all important factors in whether those leaders earn respect and find success.

If the following CEOs and their actions are any indication, emotional intelligence is alive and well in the workplace.

Jeff Bezos  

Directly and indirectly, Jeff Bezos and Amazon have taken some hits. In 2015 Payscale ranked Amazon 464 out of the Fortune 500 companies in terms of employee turnover. The median tenure was 12 months. However, the fact is that Amazon has been hiring people at an amazing pace and that would skew any report. As we move into 2018 it's obvious that Bezos has built a finely tuned machine that seems optimally positioned to keep doing extraordinarily well.

Amazon fulfillment centers have been criticized for difficult working conditions. Bezos has responded by saying that these anecdotes of "callous management practices" don't "describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly at Even if it's rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero."

Obviously we don't know how angered Bezos may have been, but this is an emotionally mature and intelligent response, striking all the right notes to encourage empathy, communication, self-confidence and more.

Ursula Burns  

Ursula Burns readily reminds you, "I'm a black lady from the Lower East Side of New York... Not a lot intimidates me."  

Burns succeeded former CEO Anne Mulcahy in the first woman to woman CEO leadership transfer in Fortune 500 history. She also helped guide Xerox through near bankruptcy.

Her legacy would eventually be to engineer and drive the reinvention of the corporation from a manufacturing business to something new and unique. With that said, emotional intelligence did not come easy to Ursula. Mulcahy wrote:

"Earlier in her career she didn't have a good poker face--all her emotions were visible. That's a big thing for a CEO, because everybody is looking at you. You can destroy someone by showing your emotions, particularly negative ones. It just shuts people down. ... As chief executive, you have to consciously set the right tone, and Ursula worked to develop that."

But, as time passed, Burns began to get it. In doing so, she would emerge as a self-confident leader who put the company's interests first. And, the company and its culture reaped the rewards.

Elon Musk  

Apparently a man of extraordinary genius and vision, Elon Musk has fingers in almost as many pies as Bezos.  

Musk doesn't display Burns' frank assertiveness nor Bezos' sometimes dour demeanor. Apparently very amiable, Musk is media-ready. He's charming and articulate with a bit of showmanship thrown in.  

In response to a recent claim that Tesla had incurred 30% more employee injuries than the industry standard, Musk committed to personal accountability in an email to employees. In it, he indicates that it breaks his heart whenever an employee is injured while building cars and that he sincerely cares for their well-being and safety.  

He then asked to be notified directly about every injury, meet with the injured employees personally, then attempt to do their tasks, so he can see what needs to be fixed.  

"This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team's safety above their own."  

While it's true that sternness and even greed often drive performance and profits, that doesn't always have to be the approach. Emotional intelligence characterizes the most admirable of human organizations. And, the three CEOs here use emotional intelligence that expands their businesses. Fortunately, they are not alone.