Tag Archives: social intelligence

Intellectual Elitism

22 Dec

Image: Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The other day my son issued this complaint:

Mom, at my school the kids either don’t read or read boring baby books. There’s no one I can talk to. All of them are dumber than me.

Hearing this, I had a mixed reaction, which went something like this:

  1. This is what I thought: I wish the kids at his school read more.  My is smart, no genius, but intelligent enough to think differently than most, perhaps more than most, often to his detriment. He does have close friends at his school who are wicked smart–many smarter than him. But the whole class isn’t like that…and is probably rare at most schools. Should he be at a school where he’s surrounded by kids who think more like him?
  2. This is what I said: “Never stop reading what you enjoy. I am proud that you read books that high schoolers read. You are a smart kid. But NEVER, EVER think that this makes you better than anyone else.”
  3. This is what I thought about some more: My son is a lot like me. I was a voracious reader in school and as the resident oddball enjoyed Dickens when I was in 3rd grade. I went to a good enough school, a public school with teachers who challenged me, and I was both too shy to talk with anyone about what I read and unlikely to find anyone my age who was reading that. I’ve always been drawn to esoteric stuff that most other people find boring. Over the years, I have grown to accept that this is at times a self-imposed isolation. I need to get out more often and stop taking myself so seriously…this is MY lesson. As a parent and having gone through similar feelings when I was his age, how can I help my son to not feel like he’s alone? Luckily, my son’s intellectualism is balanced by a huge personality (something that he got more from my husband). I’m confident that this interesting mix will result in amazing results along the way, but not without a bit of sanding around the rough edges.
  4. This is the most important thing: In feeling that sense of being “the only one” who’s thinking beyond, or differently, how can my son not begin to think he’s better than everyone else? This brand of intellectual elitism can be found in the ranks of many people who live on the coasts, who believe that everyone in Middle America is an idiot. I have friends and relatives who feel this way and will probably offend them by saying this but don’t care since they’ve already offended me. I’ve also worked with people who felt this way, that because they were intellectually smarter they were innately better. My hackles go up anytime I catch a whiff of this brand of intellectually elitist thinking.

Intellectual intelligence is without doubt one of the ways that we as humans can leave our mark and improve quality of life for our fellow human beings. But it is not the only way.

Social intelligence–the ability to engage thoughtfully and with heart–is a huge force for change. Where would we be without the supportive words of our parents or the unexpected hug from a friend? Social intelligence can motivate individuals and change the world as much as intellectual intelligence–and maybe moreso.

I think it’s important to teach our children to appreciate their strengths and nurture them. It’s also important for them to remain humble and to use their intelligence as a way to innovate for the greater good–and connect with other people rather than becoming more distant from them.

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Smart Leadership is Social

5 Dec

Image: Ian Kahn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I continue to read the Steve Jobs biography, two things are clear to me:

  1. Steve Jobs was a genius. He could envision the market demand for the substance of what his developers could build, and his product marketing skills delivered it with style.
  2. Steve Jobs was able to motivate his team intellectually, but often his social deficiencies worked against greater accomplishment. Bullying and berating his people had to create an organizational black hole of missed opportunities.

In my own experiences and through what I hear from others, in particular those of us in the creative class of workers, having a socially intelligent leader is critical. Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis describe the concept in this Harvard Business Review post.

Socially intelligent leadership can leverage the intellectual capacity of teams, and enhance that capacity by upping everyone’s game through social connectivity. This means that each team member is given permission to perform to their fullest potential–and they are also encouraged to work WITH one another to push that potential into the unexpected. This type of innovative teamwork delivers disruptive innovation. When teams are led by someone with social intelligence, they create products and services that take their craft to the next level.

Let me give a couple of examples.

1. This first example comes from state government–shocking, I know. While working at the Ohio Department of Education, I was on a team assigned with creating a  report card to inform parents how their child’s school was doing on key performance indicators.

This was a new concept and required the team to tap into design, copywriting, and technology that would deliver thousands of these reports–each unique to a school–in such a way that parents would care to read them. Our leader helped us to imagine what the reports could be, and she created a team environment where we were free to put our all into delivering the reports we envisioned. She was not dictatorial. She asked more questions than she answered. She lifted us up when we made mistakes and thought we couldn’t do it. And she celebrated our successes with us along the way and when we did deliver the reports, on budget and on time.

2. My second example is from my current workplace, a nonprofit focused on educational transformation for schools. There’s a lot of innovation going on here. My role is a combination of client-facing and internal strategy support. The creative in me enjoys having the time and space to roll up my sleeves and “make stuff” (which for me means writing and doing information design) that is useful to internal and external clients.

My leader in this setting is an ace at managing demands and matching the best people to excel in meeting those needs. There’s been more than one situation where my big ideas have gotten the best of me. I have a tendency to “think big” and not consider the time commitment I’ll need to make to get to “big.” She knows this tendency of mine and encourages me to be vocal in asking for more resources to help reach the goal, rather than killing myself in the process of getting there by pulling all-nighters. What I appreciate about her approach is that she gives me the room to exercise my creativity, and she offers me the support I need to get there. In short, she saves me from myself.

Socially intelligent leaders ask questions, clear the path so that their team members can achieve, and help them find ways to pace themselves to sustain their creativity (and not burn it out) over time.