Not all of us are born with a talent for academics. While some people can pick up a book, learn the theory in an hour and apply it perfectly in the context of an examination, others can try all day and get nowhere. Succeeding within the workplace requires a whole lot more than IQ. Emotional capacity is a far greater indicator of success than intellect has ever been – and, in good news for us – it can be learned.
When we were students, we were made to feel as if success lived and died by the number of marks we received on our exam papers. Today, the reality is much the same. Many of us will have had kids that have been through the VCE system, where 13 years of primary and secondary education is reduced to a number out of one hundred, rounded to two decimal places.
Of course, we should never slander the power of natural intellect. The greatest advancements in human history spring from the minds of brilliant women and men. To discourage education would be to take a step backwards. We want smart, hardworking people in our organisations who are ready to carry us forward.
But it is important to keep intellect in perspective. How many times has the genius you know shown themselves to be ignorant when it comes to social interaction or manners? They might be a whiz in theory but put them in a meeting and they regress.
This often comes down to the fact that IQ – intellect – is not conducive to EQ, otherwise known as emotional intelligence. Just because someone is book smart doesn’t mean that they’re people smart.
Ultimately, intelligence only gets you so far. You must be able to understand yourself, your emotions and the emotions of others in order to succeed as a leader within an organisation. The stories about Former PM Kevin Rudd provide the perfect case study. Rudd is renowned within academic circles for his expertise in certain international matters. At the UN, he was a highly respected diplomat. However, his colleagues ousted him from leadership in 2010 because they found him too difficult to work with. Despite his genius, his lack of emotional intelligence was the death of him. He was considered too controlling and domineering (if the media is to be believed).
An executive can’t be unintelligent. They will need to make wise decisions every day, so education and critical thinking is paramount. But what is absolutely pivotal is that they display high levels of emotional intelligence. As Dr Travis Bradberry states “we all reach critical points in our lives where our mental strength is tested.” In those moments, we must call on our reserves of EQ in order to both survive and flourish. This is obvious from the stats: People with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time according to the World Economic Forum.
The most beautiful part of EQ is that, unlike intelligence, it can be learned. The capacity to understand emotions can be innate but that is not always the case. Dr Bradberry points to certain qualities leaders should aim for in order to deepen their EQ.
Firstly, leaders must step out of their comfort zones. By taking yourself away from what you’re used to, you become uncomfortable. It is in moments of discomfort that you learn about yourself and others.
Secondly, leaders don’t hold grudges, nor give in to jealousy or envy. As Dr Bradberry says, “holding onto stress wreaks havoc on your body” and can negatively affect your capacity to lead. Emotionally intelligent executives know how to let go of these feelings, freeing them up to make the best decisions possible. If you let your personal feelings get in the way of doing your job, you’re more likely to make biased calls.
Finally, emotionally intelligent executives are happy to live in anonymity. Leaders who lead in order to impress others or gain credit are more likely to make big decisions that are ultimately unnecessary. Leaders should learn to be satisfied by doing what needs to be done, even if their egos might want something different.
Regardless of whether you’re a genius who aced high school and university or a grafter who worked his or her way to the top, anyone who wants to succeed as an executive needs a firm understanding of emotions. Organisations are ultimately collections of people. To get the best out of your organisation, you need to be able to negotiate the natural, emotional responses of the human beings around you.
Separate yourself from the crowd by understanding the crowd. Your ability to connect, inspire, grow and lead will flourish once you do.