When Being Smart Isn't Enough

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Emotional intelligence—one's ability to read the moods of others and communicate with them openly and constructively—can count for more in leadership roles than sheer brainpower.

PDF DownloadAre you an effective leader?

The answer would seem obvious, especially for managers who have ascended through the ranks. Yet leaders themselves often show a misunderstanding of what it takes to be successful, especially when they make decisions based purely on intellectual analysis.

In fact, there's a school of thought that suggests emotional intelligence—one's ability to read the moods of others and communicate with them openly and constructively—counts for more in leadership roles than sheer brainpower.

"Ninety percent of the competencies that are relevant to leadership have to do with EI," says management consultant Annie McKee, coauthor of an upcoming book on the topic. She says the only component of traditional IQ as closely linked to good leadership as emotional intelligence is pattern recognition—the ability to take seemingly unrelated bits of information and fit them into a whole. "That's a very high-order intellectual ability, on a par with being able to predict the future," she says.

Primal Leadership, to be published in March by Harvard Business School Press (EI guru Daniel Goleman is also a coauthor), doesn't deal explicitly with the question of whether technologists make good leaders. But McKee told Baseline she doesn't buy the stereotype of the technologist as bad with people, saying it is less a matter of nature than nurture.

"I wouldn't say they don't have the ability," she says. "But in fields where people are encouraged to work alone, they're less likely to have developed some of those capabilities."

Quiz: Emotional Intelligence

As with most personality assessments, emotional intelligence is best determined through input from multiple sources—in the workplace, this means getting rated by bosses, coworkers and subordinates. Quizzes like the one Baseline created here can give you an initial sense of where you fall on the scale. To learn more about the competencies associated with leadership, visit www.baselinemag.com/ei.

Instructions: Circle the answer that best reflects what you would do in these awkward situations; at the bottom of the page, read the implications for your EI.

1. In a meeting reviewing your department, the COO questions the need for your position in front of several fellow managers and a few top executives. You:

A. ask the COO afterward for a time to discuss her concerns and your contributions.

B. remain silent, confident the others see how inappropriate this public questioning is.

C. politely but firmly state why the position you hold is, in fact, vital to the company.

2. During a presentation by a 50-year-old man (the newest hire at your Gen-X company), a younger peer wisecracks that his ideas reveal his age. As the ranking executive, you:

A. rebuke the joker in private and let the 50-year-old know you've done so.

B. joke about the transience of every generation's marketing ideas—including ones you've had—adding that employees' ages are not relevant in workplace discussions.

C. change the subject from the age issue back to the underlying idea.

3. A popular manager applies for the role left open by a division leader's sudden departure. You're looking externally, and anyway, his experience doesn't fit. You:

A. assure him that you're considering internal as well as external candidates.

B. discuss the position with him and listen to why he thinks he could succeed in it.

C. tell him frankly that he does not yet have the skills to succeed in the open role.

4. A recent hire by one of your managers has been participating in a racist newsgroup during work hours. After deciding to dismiss the employee, you:

A. send out a brief e-mail that makes it clear the decision was yours, and answer questions individually.

B. explain in a staff meeting that though everyone handles some personal matters at work, this quantity was unacceptable, and certain aspects went against company values.

C. leave it to the hiring manager to relay the news, subject to input from you and HR.

5. Your new boss—with whom you've had several run-ins—tells you that you have a reputation for saying negative things about the company. You:

A. see the writing on the wall and start looking for a new job.

B. press him to find out who has this errant impression of you.

C. ask why he hasn't defended you from these false charges.


1. A and C are the best answers, demonstrating, respectively, organizational awareness and self-confidence. B, which relies on others' fair judgment, is a risky bet in business settings.

2. Both A and B show empathy, a key competency for any manager. But B is a better response precisely because it delivers a serious message publicly—and because the use of humor makes the message easier to hear. C may ease tension but fails to address the discrimination.

3. B reflects a manager who understands the importance of building bonds with valuable employees. A and C are bond-breakers—A for insincerity, C for unnecessary harshness.

4. B's straightforward but nonspecific manner is the best way to balance concern for the departing employee, the company and your staff. A is too aloof and C is a cop-out.

5. If he was on your side, the boss would have killed these rumors at the source instead of dropping them in your lap. It's time to move on (A).

This article was originally published on 2002-02-04
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