It Takes More Than IQ

Successful business professionals and leaders have well developed critical thinking skills and solid IQ along with strong functional and market knowledge. These have been honed and developed over the years in academic training and business experience. We naturally rely heavily on those skills to resolve critical business challenges. Great leaders however know that it takes much more than intellect and knowledge to solve business issues, especially those that require engaging and inspiring our people to give their very best.

Great leaders lead with their heart, have a clear set of beliefs and values and combine cognitive and rational skills with well-developed emotional intelligence (EQ). They understand that what separates them from successful leaders is not IQ, talent or skill, but their ability to harness the talent to get the best possible outcome. It is similar to the difference between a star and a superstar athlete who have pretty much the same talent, skill and fitness levels. What separates them is the mindset, the mental makeup.

When Andy Murray came out swinging against Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon championship match, a keen observer would have noticed that something had shifted in his approach. Even though he lost the match, Andy made an important statement to himself. Unlike in the past, he would not lose the match in his mind even before it started on the court. A month later, he won the Olympic gold medal on the same Wimbledon center court against the same player; and a month after that he won his first grand slam championship in New York at the US Open.

This was a remarkable shift from someone who never won a grand slam match against three of his top rivals, including four finals. It was obvious all along that when it came to talent, fitness and work ethic he was second to none. All Andy Murray needed to do was up his mental game. It is no coincidence that the shift happened when he hired Ivan Lendl, perhaps the greatest over achiever in Tennis, as his new coach.

Research in neuroscience and our own experience in the real world demonstrate that by combining intellect, heart and spirit we are able to perform critical business functions such as: (1) negotiate and resolve conflicts, (2) develop and execute strategies (3) communicate (4) make decisions; a lot more effectively. Great leaders tap in to this ability to listen deeply and empathize with other perspectives. They conduct collaborative conversations with intelligence, respect and integrity and facilitate conscious decisions by honoring the individual.

For instance, when I first met “Jerry” a few years back, he was a rising star. A brilliant technologist with off the chart IQ, he was one of the youngest executives to run a division of a Fortune 500 company. He had an enormous capacity for data, information and statistics and dreamed of running an organization. Yet he remained “stuck” for many years. He was getting bitter and resentful at losing out on opportunities to grow and take on more responsibility.

I started working with “Jerry” recently and encouraged, coaxed and challenged him to look within and determine what he could do differently to make a bigger impact. He confessed that he loved solving strategic and technical challenges but had no patience and sensitivity to deal with personality conflicts. He discovered that he was not connecting with people at the visceral level and perhaps this is what was holding him back from rising to the next level. The 3600 feedback was even more critical. His subordinates and peers felt that “Jerry” was condescending and quick to dismiss input that was not elegantly stated. While all of them acknowledged his enormous intellect, they did not believe that he had the emotional capacity to engage everyone and lead a collaborative team. He did not inspire trust.

Jerry accepted the tough feedback. He is not in denial anymore and is an enthusiastic student of understanding human nature and nurturing human potential. He has become a lot more relaxed personally and paradoxically much more effective as a leader. He now truly believes that his best is yet to come. Even though he is no longer attached to the ambition of running a company, he is bound to receive many exciting opportunities.

While we all know the importance of EQ intellectually, it is a difficult discipline to practice for many of us successful, hard driving leaders. We are used to leading compartmentalized lives: we utilize intellect at work, nurture emotion with friends and family, and postpone engaging our spirit in inner search or in service of a worthy cause for a later time. On the other hand, great leaders show up fully at work, home and everywhere all the time. This makes them more natural and authentic and helps them connect at a deeper level with their people. They treat business as a place for everyone to unleash their creative potential and make a difference.



About the author

With a passion for guiding leaders and organizations who want to push the envelope of human innovation to unlock exceptional performance and deep personal fulfillment; Sudhir has worked with some of the top global organizations and CEOs of companies to help foster an environment of inspired action. Read more >




4 thoughts on “It Takes More Than IQ

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  1. In all fairness, can we couch the argument for EQ in the context of “all things being equal” where individuals are concerned? Even if all things are equal (i.e. IQ, skills, and abilities), the leader’s EQ may fail to inspire the team to get the job done. Regardless of how emotionally intelligent the individual is, at the end of the day, completion of the objectives matter. Hence, the direct link between ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘greatness’ might be weak. Knowing what we know today, in the context of EQ, would Jack Welch make the grade?

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful question! A leader’s primary responsibility is to get the job done. The key question then becomes, what is the best way to accomplish this. What kind of an environment should a leader (and the leadership team) create to get the most out of the organization? There is overwhelming evidence backed by scientific research to suggest that people give their best in an environment of autonomy, results orientation, transparency, flexibility, fairness, meritocracy and mutual accountability.

      To nurture such an environment requires a deeper appreciation for human nature and the ability to connect with people at a visceral level, in addition to the necessary qualities of intellect, knowledge, passion and drive. My point is that both are necessary, EQ alone doesn’t guarantee effectiveness or greatness. What I mean is, “toughness without love and passion without compassion breeds rigidity and mediocre compliance; similarly love without toughness and compassion without passion could lead to apathy and indifferent results.” Research and our own experience in the real world demonstrates that EQ is twice as important as IQ and knowledge for CEOs and senior leaders.

      The question you raised about Jack Welch is something I get a lot. While it is neither fair nor accurate to compare leaders of different eras, all great leaders share one thing in common; they deliver exceptional results that are sustainable. Nobody can argue with Jack Welch’s success and effectiveness. Neither can we doubt the results achieved by today’s leaders, for example Howard Schulz, Fortune’s 2011 CEO of the year. While I don’t personally know either of them, it is safe to say that Howard Schulz and other leaders such as Larry Page of Google, John Mackey of Whole Foods and Tony Hsieh of Zappos, demonstrate a higher degree of EQ at work, which makes them very effective in today’s environment.

      If I were to use a sports metaphor, it is like comparing Michael Jordan (MJ) and LeBron James from two different eras. LeBron comes across as more of a team player who is willing to share the spotlight and credit with other superstars, which I believe is a reflection of the times we are living in. Perhaps both Jack Welch and MJ would have done the same if they were leading their respective teams today! I hope that helps.

  2. Thank you for your question. “Jerry” was already stuck for a few years. He was not getting the CEO or COO offers that he coveted. He did not know why and was not ready to face the real reason. He did not create the environment to get honest feedback. His openness to the possibility of his personal shortcomings has now paved the way for overcoming the weakness that had stopped him from reaching his potential. He feels very liberated by this understanding. He is actively working on fixing this weakness and is able to accentuate his strengths even more. As a result, he will know more realistically what the right job for him is. More importantly, he feels good about this clarity and is more effective collaborating with his colleagues and leading his team. He feels that leadership is a sacred responsibility and that one should lead because he or she is effective and not because of personal ambition.

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