Forrest Gump, a fictional example…

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Psychologists aren’t exactly sure how to define intelligence.  Even after a century of debate about what it is, and how to measure it, we still have a wide range of theories and ways to test this elusive human quality. More importantly, psychologists still don’t have solid evidence to show that intelligence matters in improving the quality of our day-to-day lives.  Forrest Gump perhaps provides the best fictional example, at least, of someone whose test scores placed him below average in intelligence, but whose enjoyment of life – and success – were unquestionably high.

We don’t need to turn to fiction, however, to justify the idea that IQ, as it’s traditionally defined, isn’t necessarily related to the ways that people measure success and happiness in real life. Even those who claim that superior intellectual performance is vital to life success, such as British psychologist Graham Jones (2012), don’t limit themselves to IQ scores.

According to Jones, who interviewed top athletes, CEOs, military leaders, and physicians, superior intellectual performance involves knowing how to use the skills you have, not just having those skills. It’s no use to have a brilliant intellect if you can’t work within the constraints of your environment or be motivated to use your brilliance to the max. This study, like the “successful intelligence” theory proposed several years ago by psychologist Robert Sternberg (2009), makes it clear that intelligence is more than book smarts.

Successful intelligence requires that we know how to put our intellectual best foot forward.  Sometimes this means having just plain common sense, or “street smarts.”  Successful intelligence also involves having “emotional intelligence,” also called “EI,” which is being to read people’s feelings – and your own.

With high EI, you can succeed in many areas of your life. Your close relationships can benefit from knowing how to read people’s feelings, regulate your own emotions (especially anger), and understand what you’re feeling, and why.

 EI is now moving front and center to corporate boardrooms where it is becoming the latest leadership buzzword. Organizational psychologists are finding that leaders must have the ability to understand social interactions and solve the complex social problems that arise in the course of office life.  From resolving disputes to negotiating high-powered deals, business leaders need to be able to read each other’s signals, as well as understand their own strengths and weaknesses.
Now that we’ve swapped one thorny problem (defining intelligence) with another (defining leadership), let’s take a closer look at why good leaders need to be able to read the emotional tealeaves of their workers, if not their competitors.

Current leadership theories define great leaders as ones who show transformative qualities. Transformative leaders can act as models who inspire other people by their vision of change. They have charisma, promote creativity and innovation, develop an environment in which their workers feel supported, and convey ambitious goals to their workers (Cavazotte et al., 2012).  In other words, a transformative leader is the ideal boss. It’s easy to see why part of the formula for becoming a great leader is that you possess emotional intelligence.

From an article in Psychology Today by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D.

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