The Black Swan of Leadership – The Emotional Leader

By Ricardo Caldeira


Who Agrees that Emotional Leaders are (Still) a Kind of Black Swan These Days?

Karl Popper’s Theory of Falsifiability, commonly known as the Theory of the Black Swan, argues that it is not possible to confirm the integrity of a theory by a simple verification that the results of a forecast made based on that theory were verified. Theories, he said, should only enjoy the status of a theory not contradicted by the facts. It will then, always, be cyclical and provisional. 

In reference to an emotional leader as it relates to Popper’s theory, just because we may not have experienced an emotional leader, doesn’t mean that they do not exist. It simply means that, until now, that fact is not yet contradicted (we do not know yet).

Millions and millions of white swans don’t prove that all swans are white. One black swan, just one, is enough to prove that they are not all white.

I learned about black swans for the first time in high school. I was in the ninth grade, and my philosophy teacher was talking about K. Popper and his theories. The example of the black swan caught my attention. Since then, the black swan has become a personal motto of mine – a goal. That memory cemented by the philosophy teacher calling me a black swan, too. Over the past 25 years, I’ve always tried to be a black swan, the exception. I am attuned and awake to black swans. From an early age, leadership and its frame has found its way into my being. In school, I was very often the class delegate. I played football for ten years, and for many of those, I was one of the captains. Some characteristics of leaders are innate, born with us. I think I agree with this, but life, education, and culture brings us the rest. Only with this custom ‘package’ of learned and innate behaviors can we become successful leaders — those of us who have uncommon communication skills, empathy (lots of it), care, and concern with others, a high rate of emotional intelligence, distinguished vision, self-confidence, mindfulness, personality, and extra humility.

When I envision the idea of a successful leader, one that stands out, and is unique and emotional, I think he or she is the exception, the black swan. We think of them, we want them, we idolize them, and we reinforce our efforts for them. But, where are they? 

Leaders have always been and always will be. 

But are they all the same? What kind of leader do we like to work with?

Nowadays, I think the need for emotional leaders is critical. Emotional leaders are extremely humble, they have empathy, and are distinguished by their communication skills, their human side, and are more present and engaging with others. They hear more than they speak. They value and stimulate. They care — and that’s visible. They have no problem showing emotion. These are the black swans of leadership – their probability low, but their impact high. They are black swans, not in a logic of unpredictability as in the original theory, but a logic of some improbability. In a sense, there are few, or “hidden,” — we never know very well where we can find them, or if we’ll find them. 

They are black swans because of their actions, their attitude, their true selves, and they have a huge impact on everything around them within themselves, but also in those who are led by them, and in the organizations they lead. Black swans, once we know them and have the privilege of working with them, easily explains why this kind of leadership is so effective. It’s also very easy to recognize the characteristics that set them apart, and it becomes very simple to ask why there are not more of these leaders.

 Why are they so rare? What are they afraid of? Showing emotion? Showing their humanness, that they care, that they can be vulnerable? Why? Doesn’t everyone understand, and feel that this vulnerability is important to be balanced and happy as a team? By being fine and happy, we all are more enthusiastic, more productive, and more effective. If we ask them about this, they agree with this. So, why is it so difficult to put into practice?

 I have over 20 years of working experience in the finance industry. I have worked with dozens of branches, hundreds of people/colleagues, and many leaders. Emotional leaders? Few, but yes, in my experience I can count them on one hand. Even with the small number, it is sufficient to confirm that they exist. The rest of the leaders that I have worked with had styles like transactional leaders, who discerned only results. There were also many other styles of leadership, but none that held the black swan traits of an emotional leader. 

 Many are tired of basic leaders, common leaders — “bosses.” They want emotion, care, and empathy. There is plenty of research out there that demonstrates that people are happier and achieve better results and have a higher level of productivity when they feel they are valued and listened to. A large proportion of leaders lead without emotion. By not doing so, they are missing an opportunity to lead more effectively with a balance of relationship and task. Authenticity, empathy, humility, caring, listening, and inclusion are all achievable things, yet, they often go untapped. Leaders need to learn to delegate. They need to value their teams and treat each person as individuals within a team. Above all, they need to promote and develop cultural and organizational well-being. 

Every responsibility of a leader that can be led with the heart is an opportunity. Millennials are, and will, continue to force leaders to “fill” that engagement. Emotional leadership should not be dissociated from reason. Emotion and reason are inextricably connected, so why don’t we let this marriage work? Why don’t we cultivate this connection, this interaction? Leaders will need to be alchemists with their own identity, to reach their teams, and transform them into something unique.

Leadership still is, in modern days, a process of receiving from others. But it is increasingly an art of giving. It is an altruistic process. The right word, the right gesture, and behavior at the right time can be decisive. Leadership then becomes a two-way interaction. This is a paradigm shift towards more emotionally connected leadership. People have always liked leaders who promote creative freedom, allowing space outside of the pressures of monitoring habits and systemic control. Leaders who do that, emotional leaders, are preferred and will thrive. I hope in the near future, these kinds of leaders become more frequent and more visible instead of being the exception. Their existence proves that not all leaders are “regular” swans, it means that “rule,” that assumption is already, finally, contradicted. Modern economies, the modern world, need more and more of this kind of vision, attitude, and impact. Leadership needs to become ”black.”


Knowledge is an open adventure. Which means that what we will know tomorrow is something we do not know today; and that something can change the truths of yesterday.” – K. Popper



Ricardo Caldeira has a degree in Economics (Universidade Lusíada) and a Post-Graduation certificate on Banking, Insurance, and Financial Markets, granted by Universidade Europeia, where he recently finished his Master’s degree on Management and Business Strategy.

His Master Thesis focused on the multiple meanings of the concept of “Emotional Leadership” and the importance of managing people based on an emotional link – as only meaningful human relationships can build sustainable and long-lasting companies. Ricardo chose the banking sector as a specific case study, taking advantage of his own experience in one of the top 5 banks in Portugal, where he has worked since 2007.

In his 20-year professional career, Ricardo has also worked in insurance and real estate, it has allowed him to see differing management strategies applied to different contexts. this experience has given broadened his range and his approach to leadership. If you would like to learn more or get in touch with Ricardo, please click here.

Ricardo Caldeira

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  • Pedro Da Mata says:

    Probably I’m a black swan and only few people can see it. Thanks Ricardo, probably you can see my color becsuse you are a gold swan