Leadership: Social Intelligence is Essential

I’ve long argued that outstanding leadership requires a combination of self-mastery and social intelligence. What’s the difference? Self-mastery refers to how we handle ourselves; for those familiar with my model of emotional intelligence, self-mastery breaks down into self-awareness and self-control.The leadership competencies that build on self-mastery include self-confidence, the drive to improve performance, staying calm under pressure, and a positive outlook. All these abilities can be seen at full force, for instance, in workers who are outstanding individual performers. The operative word here is “individual” – and that’s the rub. When it comes to leaders, effectiveness in relationships makes or breaks. Solo stars are often promoted to leadership positions and then flounder for lack of people skills.

When Claudio Fernando-Araoz, head of research for the executive recruitment firm Egon Zehnder International, looked at CEOs who had succeeded and those who had failed, he found the same pattern in America, Germany and Japan: those who failed were hired on the basis of their drive, IQ, and business expertise – but fired for lack of emotional intelligence. They simply could not win over, or sometimes even just get along with, their board of directors, or their direct reports, or others on whom their own success depended.

All this has made intuitive and theoretical sense to me. But I like data. So I’m pleased to see several new studies that confirm how essential social intelligence – as opposed to simple self-mastery – can be for leadership effectiveness. The findings:

  • At a transportation company, those leaders strongest in the social intelligence competencies led greater revenue growth, compared to executives with strengths only in the self-mastery competencies.
  • The same goes for banking: at a major nationwide bank, high social intelligence (but not self-mastery alone) predicted executive’s yearly performance appraisal, which in turn reflects business success.
  • The value of social intelligence even applies to clergy: among Catholic priests,, greater social intelligence predicted more satisfied parishioners.

All these studies were based on the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI), which I helped my colleague Richard Boyatzis design. I’d like to see if other researchers verify this effect using other measures to replicate these findings. Any graduate students out there

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