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Developing Your Emotional and Social Intelligence

This article was based on the Harvard Business Review interview, “Social Leadership and Intelligence” with psychologist Daniel Goleman.


The Difference Between Emotional and Social Intelligence

In his interview on leadership and the importance of social and emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman explains the difference between the two concepts. Emotional intelligence is more about self-mastery.  It is about how you handle yourself, and it makes for outstanding individual performers. However, when it comes to leadership, success depends on everyone else being effective. A leader needs to be successful by influencing others, and this is what social intelligence is about.


Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence was prompted by a breakthrough in brain science as we became better equipped to understand the emotional centres of the brain and how that affects our ability to think. It turns out that when you are upset, it hampers your ability to process information and think creatively.  Unpleasant emotions cause people to fall back on limiting, primitive behaviours, making them dysfunctional. However, when we are passionate about what we are doing, if we are motivated and in the throws of positive emotion, we think very clearly. This presents an immediate, obvious implication for business.


Social Intelligence

The work on social intelligence was also stimulated by scientific breakthroughs in brain science.  What researchers discovered is that there is a connection between the brain, body, person, and there are implications of the interactions between them. This is the key to why some leaders are so spectacularly successful at growing their businesses. It is about engaging people and being positive. Exemplary leaders tune into others with such positivity that it becomes contagious.


How Companies Use Emotional and Social Intelligence

There are many examples of how leaders have changed their work based on newfound insights into emotional and social intelligence. When a leader notices that there is an issue with moral, it is time to understand the causes.  Good leaders will start to probe employees, and often they will find out they just aren’t good listeners. One leader that was able to make a significant change found out that his attitude of wanting to hear what others thought was viewed as lip service.  The employees felt like they knew a lot, but he didn’t seem to care. What he had to do was get better at the social intelligence ability to listen and tune in to other people. This can be a real problem for many executives because they do have significant knowledge and people defer to them. However, what we have found is that the really excellent leaders are people who first listen and get other people to say what they think and what they know. Once they have all of the information from the team, they use it to create a higher order integration.

Companies are now using social intelligence to enhance the effectiveness of their leadership and to change the corporate culture. They do this by hiring people that have these abilities already and by internally promoting people who show these abilities. Social intelligence then becomes part of how employees are evaluated and part of what is looked for in taking people to the next level in the organisation. Companies are making an effort to incorporate these abilities into individual development plans to help everyone improve their emotional and social intelligence.  


The proof is in the Data

Today we even have the data to prove that emotional and social intelligence are an important part of leadership ability. Currently, there are about 10 years of accumulated data from organisations of all kinds showing that there is a direct correlation between the emotional intelligence of leadership at every level and how that organisation performs.


Understanding Your Emotional and Social Intelligence

What can hold leaders back is that they often think they have more emotional intelligence than they do. To find out, you need to ask those people that you are interacting with. It turns out that we ourselves are not the best gauge of how we are impacting others.  Other people, if you can get them to be candid, can tell you what your strengths are and what you can get better at. This is often interesting and valuable information because it shows the leader where he can get a bump in improvement by improving at something as simple as listening. Because leaders depend on other people for their success, developing emotional intelligence not only benefits the leader, but also the entire organisation.


Changing Your Habits

The good news is that even though we learn our habits early in life, we can change them at any point in time if we are properly motivated, if we know what to do, and if we have a little help.  Enhancing your social and emotional intelligence abilities as a leader is a simple process.

  1. The first question to ask yourself is, do you care?
  2. Change takes effort, so it is important to understand what is motivating you.
  3. Get some feedback from others.  You’re the worst person to judge where you need to improve.
  4. From this feedback, identify your strengths and weaknesses to pinpoint where you can get better.
  5. The final step is to make a learning agreement with yourself to do things in a better way at every naturally occurring opportunity.

If you follow these steps for a few months, you will see real change.

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