Social Intelligence - Is it a Vital Skill for our leaders?

There is much talk about different intellectual skills for our leaders, and social intelligence is emerging as a new buzz concept.

It really is nothing new!

It may seem like think tanks are creating a whole bunch of new concepts and ideas, but in fact these theories are not original or new. Many of you will have realized that they existed as you examined your own development from early childhood. It is clear from babies needing interaction to pensioners needing company, that human beings cannot exist without social interaction. Maybe this even offers a limited explanation of why social media has made such an explosion in communication, as it offers social interaction even if somewhat artificial, to others with whom there was never any possibility.

Did science misunderstand intelligence?

Science or to be specific neuroscience has in the last decade started to recognize that intelligence is not singular, and rather takes several aspects of an individual's skill set to measure their true intelligence. How many of us have had managers who had zero common sense, or struggled to actually manage the welfare of their employees. This competence may in fact be their deficiency.

Where does social intelligence fit in the grand scale of things?

Social intelligence is now widely recognised as one of six dimensions of intellectual competence as identified by Karl Albrecht, which constitute 'intelligence' as we understand it. These six dimensions are abstract, social, practical, emotional, aesthetic and kinaesthetic (A.S.P.E.A.K.) Intelligence cannot be measured in a single number as previously believed. It will equally be rare in fact genius, when someone excels in all of these areas of the intelligences.

Clearly, in life we need to have the ability to socially interact with others and gain their cooperation. This correlates with our emotional capabilities, as in order to have healthy and positive interactions with others, we must have empathy as well as an accurate ability to interpret and act appropriately on emotions.

The table below gives some insight into how one might begin to assess this skill. Equally, you can see the social skills required and differing interaction styles. It is clear that social intelligence cannot be viewed solely from one perspective, as it is also reliant on the impact you make on others. The S.P.A.C.E. acronym offers a great précis of the vital skills to excel in this area of competence. It equally shows the correlation with emotional intelligence, which has an impact of the ability to socially interact and vice versa.

social intelligence assessment

"A first date provides a great example"

It is almost starting to sound like a relationship, and in some aspects social intelligence probably is - a relationship between minds. Meeting someone new, you interact usually with words as your brains are communicating and connecting. Usually we recognise whether the other person gives us positive vibes by signs within our bodies or by reactions, like laughing and talking more, so we realize there is two-way traffic. Conversely, if this liaison is negative, we want to disappear as there is no "feel-good" factor present, or we feel drained, as if slowly being poisoned. During this interaction, we have to watch our behaviours, and the impact on our date, adjusting that behaviour as the situation dictates, some of which will be based on emotional cues.

What is going wrong with our leaders?

It would appear that because intelligence was traditionally based on a more intellectual criterion, social proficiency was largely overlooked. There are not many leaders who have the ability to work harmoniously at grass-roots level with full cooperation of their troops. Given the growth of conflict, social and economic pressures in the world, it may well be that this practical ability will have more significance in the future.

We are already seeing global unrest demonstrating that this challenge will become more significant as resources become scarce, and other issues like conflict, unemployment and economic pressures increase. Leaders will need to increasingly develop these skills authentically to satisfy the needs and respect of their citizens.

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