Leadership in today’s fast-paced and dynamic world just got a whole lot more complex. The days of relying on raw power intelligence, with impressive presentation skills and a dominant personality are passé. With so many dimensions to teams today including culture, location and demography, social intelligence is quickly becoming the make or break factor in effective leadership, globally. 

In recent times, the study of what really happens in the brain when people interact is beginning to reveal subtle new truths about what makes a good leader. Popular writer Daniel Goleman has drawn on social neuroscience research to propose that social intelligence is made up of social awareness (including empathy, attunement, empathic accuracy, and social cognition) and social facility (including synchrony, self-presentation, influence, and concern). Goleman’s research indicates that our social relationships have a direct affect on our physical health and the deeper the relationship, the deeper the impact.

As leaders, we are largely determined not only by how good our teams are, but also how aligned they are with the overall purpose and goal. Alignment goes beyond stating the goal. To be truly aligned implies that they believe in (and will work towards) it from deep within and represent that ambition in a demonstrable manner. That’s where the intersection of leadership and social intelligence comes in. Our ability to not only effectively navigate and negotiate complex relationships and environments within the workplace, but also to emerge as an inspiring and capable leader will drive our success, to a large extent. Throw in today’s heterogeneity within a global workforce, and the need to understand social dynamics suddenly becomes a critical success factor. 

As our understanding of social circuitry continues to develop (we are definitely on our way, but far from being there yet), this might be a good time to ask yourself a few important questions that can help you up the game when it comes to social intelligence. Or at least know where you stand.

  1. Empathy: Do you understand what motivates other people, even those from different backgrounds? Are you sensitive to their needs?
  2. Organizational Awareness: Do you appreciate your company’s culture and values? Do you understand social networks and know their unspoken norms?
  3. Influence: Do you persuade others by engaging them in discussion, appeal to their interests and get support from key people?
  4. Developing Others: Do you coach and mentor others with compassion? 
  5. Inspiration: Can you articulate a compelling vision, build group pride, foster a positive emotional tone, and lead by bringing the best out in people?

Work relationships can be a double-edge sword. Positive relationships have a beneficial impact on our working environment and teams, while toxic ones can create unhealthy interpersonal dynamics and slow down the organization. Knowing where you stand, and what you need to do could make the difference between success and failure, of not just you as a leader, but at a much larger scale.