Oswald Letter

You don’t have to be Einstein to succeed or lead

EQby Dan Oswald

In my last post, I wrote about an article that appeared in the June issue of Harvard Business Review (“The Big Idea: 21st-Century Talent Spotting”). The subject of the article was hiring for potential. Of course, to do so, one must know how to determine a person’s potential. The article’s author, Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, provided five qualities he looks for in determining an individual’s potential:

  1. The right kind of motivation (I’d call it unselfish motivation)
  2. Curiosity
  3. Insight
  4. Engagement
  5. Determination

Over the weekend, I revisited Fernández-Aráoz’s list, and a couple of things struck me. First, intelligence isn’t mentioned anywhere. It’s not on the list or in the definitions of any of the qualities. He does include in the description of “curiosity” the ability to seek out knowledge, but one can be curious without a high IQ. And in his definition of “insight,” he points to the ability to gather and make sense of information, but again he doesn’t mention intelligence. And those two examples are as close to intelligence or IQ as he comes. Just an observation for you to consider.

The second thing that struck me is that Fernández-Aráoz does mention emotion. In his definition of “engagement,” he talks about combining “emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people.” That got me thinking about Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, in which he first brought this concept to our attention. That was nearly 20 years ago, and today, emotional intelligence (EQ) is widely accepted as a determinant in a person’s success at work and in life. In fact, it’s now tested for in much the same way IQ is. It’s recognized as being that important.

“To put it in colloquial terms, emotional intelligence is like ‘street smarts,’ as opposed to ‘book smarts,’ and it’s what accounts for a great deal of one’s ability to navigate life effectively,” writes Carolyn Gregoire. Obviously, Fernández-Aráoz agrees with her and Goleman about the importance of emotional intelligence in contributing to a person’s success—so much so that he lists emotion as a quality to look for in a high-potential person but somehow ignores intelligence. I just find that fascinating.

Think about the smartest person you know. I’m talking raw intelligence—a person who would be a great contestant on Jeopardy. Do you have someone in mind? Now think about that person’s emotional intelligence. Does her EQ register anywhere near her IQ? If so, the person is likely an incredibly successful leader. But if the EQ woefully falls short of the IQ, then you have a really smart person who doesn’t possess what Fernández-Aráoz calls “engagement.” This person won’t be able to use emotion to communicate persuasively or connect with people.

On the other hand, think about a person you know who you believe has an incredibly high emotional intelligence. This person has the ability to really connect with others. She can communicate effectively. She knows how to motivate others. She knows when to show empathy and when to push people to get the most out of them. Does her IQ register anywhere near her EQ? My guess is that if she’s of only average intelligence, she still is an incredibly effective leader. And if her IQ comes close to her EQ, she likely has achieved enormous success.

I’m not saying intelligence isn’t important. I’m just pointing out that in an article about spotting high-potential individuals, it wasn’t listed as one of the five qualities to look for. According to the author, if you can find someone who is properly motivated with the right combination of curiosity, insight, determination, and the ability to engage others using emotion and logic, you should hire her. She will figure out how to succeed even if she isn’t Einstein.