“Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership,” first published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in September 2008, explores the direct affect social intelligence has on leadership success. HBR Senior Editor Diane Coutu sits down with the article’s co-author Daniel Goleman to discuss how emotional and social intelligence relate and differ; the benefits of social intelligence as it relates to leadership; and the integration of social intelligence into company culture.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) vs. Social Intelligence (SQ)
The concept of emotional intelligence originated within a facet of brain science that studied the affect emotions have on our ability to think well. This has since been expanded upon, now with a focus on how two brains interact. EQ and SQ both relate to the way one deals with emotions, but EQ focuses on how we handle our own emotions while SQ focuses on how we handle others’ emotions.
Social Intelligence with regard to Leadership
Successful leadership and SQ are directly related. To communicate effectively, it is helpful to be able to read into others’ thoughts and emotions. It is commonly expected that those in leadership positions have the knowledge and ability to address any issue, but often they do not. Goleman explains that, as a leader, it is important to listen carefully to others and integrate that knowledge with your own. Goleman believes that this integration will lead to successful business practice.
Social Intelligence and Company Culture
According to Goleman, integrating SQ into a company’s Human Resources department may positively change company culture. For example, SQ can be a good way to evaluate a potential employee. However, in order to do so, the hiring company must expand its criteria since SQ is not always seen in the same form. Instead, it will be seen through how comfortable you feel with the person you are interviewing.
Ultimately, social intelligence refers to your ability to inspire and help develop others based on your level of skilled interaction, which is a crucial talent for business leaders to have. To enhance your own SQ, follow Goleman’s 5-step approach:

  1. Do you care? Are you motivated? – To connect with others, it is important to have a vested interest in doing so.
  2. Get some feedback – Use an anonymous rating system (i.e. anonymous survey) to garner feedback from employees.
  3. Look at the profile you’ve developed – Review the results of the anonymous feedback.
  4. Identify strengths and weaknesses – Using your profile, determine what others believe your strengths and weaknesses are. It is extremely difficult for a person to accurately establish these on their own.
  5. Make a learning agreement with yourself – Create and execute a plan to work with these strengths and weaknesses to improve your social intelligence, leadership style and business success.

Watch the full HBR interview:


This article was written by Catherine McMillan, Marketing Assistant at the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

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