To be an effective leader, you need to possess a number of strong characteristics: for instance, discipline, bravery, the ability to see the big picture, autonomy, insight into the business, the list goes on. However, one of the most important skills you need to succeed is social intelligence.
What is Social Intelligence?
The term “social intelligence” refers to the ability to understand the emotions and thoughts of other people. This idea also encompasses your own self-awareness of how others perceive your words and actions, as well as how you perceive the words and actions of others.
Here’s how leading researcher Daniel Goleman defines the concept and why it’s so important:
“We are wired to connect. Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us impact the brain—and so the body—of everyone we interact with, just as they do us.
Even our most routine encounters act as regulators in the brain, priming emotions in us, some desirable, others not. The more strongly connected we are with someone emotionally, the greater the mutual force. The most potent exchanges occur with those people with whom we spend the greatest amount of time day in and day out, year after year—particularly those we care about the most.
During these neural linkups, our brains engage in an emotional tango, a dance of feelings. Our social interactions operate as modulators, something like interpersonal thermostats that continually reset key aspects of our brain function as they orchestrate our emotions.
The resulting feelings have far-reaching consequences, in turn rippling throughout our body, sending out cascades of hormones that regulate biological systems from our heart to immune cells. Perhaps most astonishing, science now tracks connections between the most stressful relationships and the very operation of specific genes that regulate the immune system.”
Why Is It Important?
Without social intelligence, you can’t communicate effectively with people and get your personal and business needs met. Some of the symptoms of poor or underdeveloped social intelligence among leaders include:
- Problems understanding others. If you don’t have adequate social intelligence, you won’t be able to understand the full meaning behind your subordinates’ actions or statements. In other words, you literally will have problems figuring out why ABC person took XYZ action because you can’t get inside the person’s head.
- Unintentional messages to subordinates. Without self-awareness of how others around you interpret your verbal and nonverbal messages, you may send messages you didn’t intend to communicate. For example, you’re furious because of an argument you just had with your 2nd grader’s teacher. You come into the office dis-regulated, emotionally, and your feelings of anger come across as anger directed toward the team or toward a vendor. Even if you don’t say anything directly, your body language and demeanor communicate plenty.
- Inability to motivate subordinates. Without understanding your team members’ needs, emotions and concerns, you won’t know how to motivate them effectively. Appealing to the intellect alone is never as powerful as speaking to the heart and the head.
All of these problems can impact your relationships with the members of your team, your productivity and your company’s bottom line. Thus, if your social intelligence isn’t up to par, improving it is highly recommended. Fortunately, boosting these skills to a high level is more than possible, even if you acknowledge that your EQ is average or even below average.
The Challenge of Understanding and Changing Your Social Intelligence
It’s extremely hard to separate our biology from our communication style and from our relationships with other people. We don’t live and work in a lab. Per Goleman’s research, all these pieces work together. So if your diet and lifestyle is off somehow (e.g. you’re eating the wrong foods), you might be cranky or overly aggressive, and these behaviors will spill into your relationships with subordinates, bosses, clients, etc.
Disentangling these factors and figuring out what you need to work on, when, how, and why can be quite challenging, even if you have a lot of self-awareness and discipline, and you appreciate what’s at stake.
Fortunately, you don’t have to work through these issues on your own. If you need better insight into how to leverage social intelligence to improve how you operate and boost your bottom line, I can help! Please sign up below for my leadership newsletter and stay tuned to this space for more about my new program designed to teach social intelligence to leaders.