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  • Writer's pictureJordin Horn

What makes certain leaders so irresistible to follow?

Think about someone you would consider a mentor in your career… what stands out to you that makes them influential in your professional development?

I think we can safely say it wasn’t based on their title. Who really cares or is motivated by that?

It was likely based on how they interacted with you. Things they did. Things they didn’t do. And most probably fall into one or more of three categories: emotional intelligence, radical candor, and great coaching.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Calm, collected, composed. Always aware of their own emotions and what others might be feeling...this is a snapshot of high emotional intelligence. Someone like this can step into a disagreement and have a good idea of the positions of both sides, and can address each appropriately.

Are you born with emotional intelligence, or can you acquire it like a skill?


I believe that some people are born with a lean toward empathy. Others are not, and that means their natural strengths lie elsewhere. This doesn’t mean they can’t become empathetic. Here are some simple ways to increase EQ from an article:

  • Respond, don’t react, to conflict

  • Learn the skills of active listening

  • Practice self-awareness

  • Empathize (how would it feel to be in their shoes?)

  • Be approachable

Take this list and evaluate: which leader in your life exemplified each aspect of EQ? Which is strongest/weakest for you?

What is Radical Candor?

Radical candor is a confrontation sweet spot where you balance personal care about an individual and still directly challenge them. Does this sound difficult to you? I think seeing a good example of this in today’s society is rare. Be the rare one!

Check out this graphic from Radical Candor by Kim Scott (website). There is an entire course dedicated to this approach.

Executive summary? Stick to your guns when you see something that’s wrong, but don't be a jerk about it. Also, saying something when you truly care is better than saying nothing at all.

But how can you deliver a tough message without damaging your relationship or watering down the message?

Start with EQ. If you give zero f’s about those who follow you (Obnoxious Aggression), you will not communicate well. On the other hand, if you’re paralyzed with concern (Ruinous Empathy), succumbing to every request, you also will not be in a position to communicate well. Find the balance to care the right amount.

If the message is difficult or sensitive, I suggest you write it down first. Practice speaking it out loud, alone, as if you were talking to the person. Keep at the forefront of your mind that healthy care about the individual. It will come through in your tone and will express your care and concern.

What is “Coaching”?

Coaching builds awareness, leaves room for choice and leads to change. Your goal with coaching is to work together to unlock potential.

Coaching is very rarely giving advice.

When I originally drafted this section of the post, Carol pointed me toward this TEDx Talk featuring Michael Bungay Stanier. In the video, he brilliantly explains the fundamentals of coaching. Watch if you have time (MBS is amazing), but here it is in a nutshell.

Giving advice is not inherently wrong, but it becomes a problem when giving advice is the default response.

When a person approaches us with a problem, and we automatically respond with advice, the message we really send is “you are not smart/good/experienced enough to figure this out on your own,” whether we mean to say that or not. Fulfilling that insatiable desire to give advice also means we lose accessibility to our EQ.

Who wants to hear, implicitly, “You don’t know what to do, and you can’t figure that out, so let me tell you how to solve your problems”? It will turn people off instantly.

A better approach to this situation is to “stay curious longer,” meaning, keep asking the right questions!

Try asking these questions to help elicit solutions to their problem:

  • What is the real challenge here?

  • “And what else?” (“And what else?” “And what else?”...)

  • “What do you really want?”

This empowers others to find solutions that are personal and directly theirs (instead of what you think they should do - even if you are right, it won’t mean as much if they don’t ‘own’ it).

Leaders Throughout a Lifetime

What can you take from each of the three skills? Do you have to pick one? Is there a way to know when to use a little (or a lot) of each?

I think these attributes work together like the legs of a three-legged stool.

The most influential and near-perfect leaders in my life are warm, tough as nails when they have to be, and make me feel empowered. They do not feel the need to take my hand and guide me along every baby step of life, but they are there for me whenever I need to talk.

They validate my experiences, but they do not bend over backwards for me or do it for me. They let me fall down, fail, and reap real consequences, so I know later that I can get back up again. They know that I can best learn that lesson without them giving advice on it.

In all my practices in this lifetime, I hope to emulate this kind of leadership.

How can you be the type of leader that people remember throughout their careers as 'the one' that they really learned from, or grew with, or would have followed into any battle?

Was there a leader like this in your life? Feel free to share in the comments!

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