Perspectives: Recognizing Strong Leaders

   What are the characteristics of a strong leader? The most commonly accepted take on this subject revolves around emotional intelligence as described by psychologist Daniel Goleman in the 1990s.

Emotional intelligence, also known as EQ or EI, is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. How does this make for a strong leader? The five key elements of EI are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. You can see how these would contribute to leadership skills through the ability to relate to and work better with others, contributing to the success of the individual and the entire group.

Now let’s talk about women in leadership positions in the hydroelectric power industry. I had the opportunity to meet Azeb Asnake, chief executive officer of Ethiopian Electric Power, at PennWell’s POWER-GEN International event in December in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. She was named 2017 Power Generation Woman of the Year, and it’s easy to see why after a few minutes of listening to her speak.

Asnake is a civil engineer by training and is responsible for the construction and operation of generation plants, transmission lines and substations, as well as overseeing the sale of electricity to neighboring Sudan. She has been CEO of the company for four years, after serving as project manager for development of the 1,870-MW Gilgel Gibe III hydro project on the Omo River.

A woman rising to a leadership position in the power and utility areas is impressive enough in itself: Ernst & Young’s Women in Power & Utilities Index indicates only 5% of executive board executives and 16% of board members of the top 200 utilities globally were women, with only an average 1% increase over the past three years. It is even more impressive to rise to this level in a country where “80 percent of the population resides in rural areas and women provide the majority of the agriculture labor in these communities,” according to USAID. In addition, “Women’s access to resources and community participation are usually mediated through men, either their fathers or husbands.”

The primary school enrollment rate of girls in Ethiopia is 49%, compared with 21% two decades ago. However, “the majority are unable to transition to secondary and tertiary school due to distance, personal security and economic challenges,” USAID says. In this context, it is not surprising that Asnake cited her parents’ decision to send her to school as one of the single greatest contributors to her success.

In 2016, Goleman wrote an article on his website called Women Leaders Get Results: The Data. In it, Goleman said, “Leaders who get the best results tend to show more strengths in key competencies in emotional intelligence. Women, on average, are better at almost all these crucial leadership skills than are men on average. The two competencies where men and women had the least difference were emotional self-control and positive outlook. The largest difference was for self-awareness.”

He says, “You are ignoring a critical factor in your own success if you lag in recruiting women to leadership positions — and most companies are in that boat.”

Additionally, the World Bank released a study in 2017 that found output per worker in East Asia and Pacific countries could be 7% to 18% higher if female entrepreneurs and workers worked in the same sectors, types of jobs and activities as men. Recognizing this, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation launched an initiative called “Powered by Women” to catalyze change in Southeast Asia’s hydropower industry.

Despite the above benefits, Goleman has a big caveat: “Just as companies need to avoid bias favoring men for leadership positions, the answer does not lie in an across-the-board bias favoring women instead. The smart way to use this finding lies in spotting the right women for leadership.” Asnake echoed this sentiment at POWER-GEN, saying she doesn’t believe in “affirmative action” as a method to get women into leadership positions.

Every year at the HydroVision International event, PennWell’s Hydro Group works hard to include women in the program wherever possible. For example, Dr. Kristina Johnson gave an enlightening presentation during the opening keynote session. Additionally, we presented our annual Women with Hydro Vision award winners during a special luncheon.

We will continue this inclusive approach at HydroVision International 2018. But we need your assistance. If you know of a speaker (male or female) who has valuable expertise to share, send me their name and relevant background at Visit to see what topics we plan to present. And if you know of an influential woman to nominate for our Women with Hydro Vision awards, please tell us at

Managing Editor

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