AMU Careers Careers & Learning Corrections Public Safety Public Service

Why Transformational Leaders Should Embrace Emotional Intelligence

By Dr. Michael Pittaro, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

I have had the great privilege of serving the U.S. criminal justice system for nearly 30 years, first as a correctional administrator and more recently as a criminal justice professor who has embarked upon a scholar-practitioner approach to higher education teaching.

One concept in particular that I have taken with me from the field into the classroom is that of transformational leadership. I have published and presented internationally on this topic and am passionate about its effectiveness in addressing the leader / subordinate dichotomy.

More recently, I came across the fascinating concept known as emotional intelligence, which I strongly believe should be embraced by leaders. Emotional intelligence is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Studies have consistently confirmed that when you combine the teachings and practices of transformational leadership with that of emotional intelligence, you will create a leadership approach that is truly empowering.

[Related: How Emotional Intelligence Benefits Correctional Officers]

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are motivating, inspiring, self-aware, and self-confident. They work to establish a work environment based on trust, respect, and admiration. Transformational leaders are sensitive to both the professional and personal needs of their employees; by embracing empathy, they are able to foster positive thinking, transparent communication, and a clear vision of the intent and direction of the organization’s mission.

There are direct benefits to those who practice transformational leadership. They tend to attain greater levels of personal and professional success, are promoted more often, and are rated favorably by their employees and peers. Why? Transformational leaders want to create future leaders, not just followers and subordinates! They empower employees by coaching and mentoring them to think and act like leaders. They also work to resolve organizational issues that could adversely contribute to employee stress, job satisfaction, and morale.

Transformational leadership is built upon four foundational attributes:

  1. Idealized Influence –The leader serves as a role model for others to emulate. In corrections lingo, they “walk the walk, and talk the talk.” Their social presence is known and they have an “open-door” policy.
  2. Inspiration / Motivation – The leader inspires employees by encouraging and empowering them to think critically, share, and contribute to solving complex organizational issues. Transformational leaders want their employees to have a voice and a vested stake in the future of the organization and its overall mission.
  3. Intellectual Stimulation – The leader stimulates creativity, innovation, and critical thinking. This type of leader is not interested in, nor do they want, a “yes” man or woman. Instead, they want to have employees who can bring something to the table without fear. This leader is an “out-of-the-box thinker” and encourages his/her employees to do the same.
  4. Individualized Consideration – The leader coaches, mentors, and supports his / her employees and takes a sincere interest in their growth and wellbeing. If employees genuinely feel valued, they are more likely to be productive and have higher levels of job satisfaction.

After all, we spend a great deal of time, effort, and money recruiting, training, and preparing new employees; therefore, employee retention and turnover should be important concerns in our field.

Emotional Intelligence

According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, developed the concept of emotional intelligence, which was first introduced in a 1990 Yale University publication. The concept of emotional intelligence emerged when the two professors combined their knowledge of how emotions, thought, and behavior are interlinked.

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It consists of three primary components:

  • Emotional awareness;
  • The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving;
  • The ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and the emotions of others empathetically.

Collectively, an individual’s intelligence quotient (IQ), personality and emotional intelligence determine how they think and act. While IQ and personality are fixed from an early age, emotional intelligence is adaptable and flexible throughout an individual’s lifetime. It can be continually refined and enriched like any skillset with the proper amount of time, patience, and practice.

In the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, authors Bradberry and Greaves explain that emotional intelligence is the single biggest predictor of job performance in the workplace and the strongest foundation for workplace leadership. A 2014 article by Sanjay Kumar, Establishing Linkages Between Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership, echoed this finding and concluded that emotionally competent leaders at various levels of management are more successful in their organization and are able to transform the people and work culture by their personality traits and inspirational motivating power.

Some of the inferences from the Kumar study are listed below:

  • Emotional intelligence is a stronger predictor of job performance and organizational citizenship behavior.
  • Leaders having higher emotional intelligence show better quality of work performance.
  • Transformational leadership enhances organizational performance and very few studies contradict this.
  • Transformational leaders are frequently motivated to go beyond the call of duty for the benefit of their organization and their employees.
  • Transformational behaviors of leaders promote empowering cultural norms, high levels of subordinate motivation, commitment to quality and enhanced productivity.
  • Transformational leaders feel excited, enthusiastic, and energetic; thus excite, energize and motivate their employees.
  • Transformational leaders use strong emotions to arouse similar feelings in their employees through Emotional Intelligence competency.

Transformational leaders in correctional settings will benefit greatly from the embracement and implementation of emotional intelligence. A transformational leader with strong emotional intelligence is more likely to have a positive influence on the organization and its employees by reducing employee stress, improving employee performance and morale, and motivating employees in not just meeting organizational goals ethically, judiciously, and empathetically, but in exceeding those goals.

transformational leadershipAbout the Author: Dr. Michael Pittaro is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice with American Military University and an Adjunct Professor at East Stroudsburg University. Dr. Pittaro is a criminal justice veteran, highly experienced in working with criminal offenders in a variety of institutional and non-institutional settings. Before pursuing a career in higher education, Dr. Pittaro worked in corrections administration; has served as the Executive Director of an outpatient drug and alcohol facility and as Executive Director of a drug and alcohol prevention agency. Dr. Pittaro has been teaching at the university level (online and on-campus) for the past 15 years while also serving internationally as an author, editor, presenter, and subject matter expert. Dr. Pittaro holds a BS in Criminal Justice; an MPA in Public Administration; and a PhD in criminal justice. To contact the author, please email For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.


Comments are closed.