Are You An Average Leader Or An Enlightened Leader?

An enlightened leader is one who exhibits high emotional intelligence, compassion, and focus. An average leader lacks these essential characteristics. As we begin to tackle the goals of the new year, now is an especially good time to consider the attributes that set enlightened leaders apart—and to mindfully work on cultivating these qualities in ourselves.

In my experience coaching executive clients to fulfill their potential as individuals and as leaders, I continuously return to these three broad areas.


My first corporate job was serving as executive assistant to Steve Jobs. He was my first boss and mentor. Steve distilled the most valuable career advice I would ever hear into five words: “Focus is about saying no.”

Steve practiced what he preached. He realized that before leaders can say yes to the strategic priorities that will yield the highest dividends, they must first say no to countless other ideas. Some of these will be good ideas, but strong leaders make tough choices about what to prioritize and do not look back.

Great leaders must also learn to say no to demands on their time and attention. Today’s business leader has to contend with an almost unending stream of decisions to be made, people to meet with, and information to absorb. The challenge is to focus on the essentials and delegate the rest. Great leaders also master the discipline of creating uninterrupted blocks of time for deep focus—and work to ensure that others on the leadership team can do so as well. Enlightened leaders are stewards of focus.

Emotional intelligence

Teamwork has always been essential, and in the economy of the future, it will only become more so. As routine tasks become outsourced or automated, successful companies will find the biggest competitive edge in the creativity and innovation that spring from effective collaboration. 

Leaders with high emotional intelligence (EI) are best equipped to foster a culture of collaboration. Emotional intelligence shapes a leader’s ability to “successfully coach teams, manage stress, deliver feedback, and collaborate with others,” according to Harvard Business School. They cite research showing that, given similar skills and knowledge, EI accounts for almost 90% of what sets high performers apart.

Emotional intelligence comes down to four core competencies that are now a standard part of the curriculum at Harvard and other business schools: 1) self-awareness; 2) self-management; 3) social awareness; 4) relationship management. 

Enlightened leaders learn to read themselves and others and translate that awareness into mindful communication and action. 


If emotional intelligence is the set of skills that makes for enlightened leadership, compassion is at the heart of such leadership. Compassionate leaders are more connected to their people because they see through others’ eyes and feel through others’ hearts. They treat their employees with a greater sense of care, humanity, and respect. As a result, they inspire the organization by demonstrating a commitment to helping employees flourish. 

Compassionate leadership is holistic leadership. It is a philosophy that sees every employee as a whole person and shapes an organizational culture around empowering employees to thrive professionally and personally. 

Organizations led by compassionate leaders will see higher levels of employee engagement and lower turnover rates. In its most recent survey of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, Fortune says that 85% of the evaluation is based on “what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do.” This is compassionate leadership in action.

Holistic leadership is built on a foundation of wellbeing, which is the bedrock of my executive coaching practice. I teach that leadership and wellbeing go hand-in-hand. Leaders cannot sustain focus unless they tend to their wellbeing. Emotional intelligence requires self-awareness and self-care. We are unlikely to be compassionate towards others unless we are also compassionate toward ourselves.

Pay attention to the mindsets, habits, and practices that foster your wellbeing. On that firm foundation, deepen your focus, your emotional intelligence, and your compassion. The enlightened leadership that emerges will help you and your organization prosper in 2020 and beyond.

Naz Beheshti

Naz Beheshti Contributor

ForbesWomen 16 January, 2020



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