Social Intelligence – A Leadership Imperative

business (7) We all know someone who’s smart, whose intelligence is unquestionable.  Yet, he or she is socially awkward, has few friends and struggles being successful personally and professionally. They often say the wrong thing at the wrong time in social situations because they’re unable to read the crowd.  They usually aren’t achieving what they or others believe is their full potential.

In the past it was thought that a person’s professional and personal potential could be measured and predicted by their Intelligence Quotient (IQ).  But, this theory is limiting and doesn’t adequately identify the diverse human behaviors needed to achieve success.  Intelligence is multidimensional and comprised of different, overlapping and equally important subsets.

Social Intelligence (SI) is one of the subsets and is often referred to as “people skills”.  It used to be believed that people either had them or they didn’t.  Fortunately, while some of the “skills” are innate, SI can be studied, practiced and learned, which is positive news for anyone wanting to be an effective leader.

A successful leader must be able to connect with people, then effectively influence and motivate them to collaborate.  This is accomplished through understanding social and group situations and the dynamics which govern them.  SI is the ability to observe people’s interactive styles and use the knowledge to develop effective strategies, which help a leader achieve his or her objectives though others.

However, SI is not limited to reading other people well.  An influential leader has awareness of and insight into their own perceptions and reaction patterns. Through experience and on-going education they learn to accurately assess the impact of their behavior on others, using this knowledge to lead and inspire.

It’s assumed that people automatically learn to get along with others as they mature and gain experience.  Unfortunately, a quick look around the typical workplace shows this is not the case.  Most people don’t continue to learn and grow as they age – they never acquire the awareness and skills needed to succeed in professional or personal social situations.

Nevertheless, people who lack insight and competence, when interacting with others, can make significant improvements in their SI abilities at any time regardless of their age or circumstances.  And once the basic skills and knowledge are learned they’ll be able to experiment with additional behaviors and new interaction strategies.  Social Intelligence can increase throughout one’s life giving anyone an improved chance of reaching their full potential.