Leadership and Social Intelligence

Pastor Taiwo Odukoya

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men

(Romans 12:18)

“The best mechanic in a factory may fail as a foreman for a lack of social intelligence.” It was with these words, and others like it, Edward Thorndike introduced the phrase Social Intelligence into the lexicon of leadership and effectiveness in 1920. Today, thinkers and leaders across fields have come to agree that leadership would be anything but successful without the capacity to effectively navigate complex intricacies of human relationships and environments. In other words, leadership is largely a function of social intelligence. Why is this so?

Social intelligence is one’s ability to correctly interpret moods and contexts, create an environment of mutual trust, and facilitate win-win outcomes. “The human connection,” Paul Meyer said, is the key to personal and career success.” Come to think of it, to accomplish your goals and progressively actualize your vision as a leader you will necessarily need to manage diverse interests and gain the cooperation of others. Nobody leads or achieves anything of significance in isolation. No matter how well you understand the issues or how intellectually capable you are, there will always be people in diverse and different fields of human endeavour who possess the requisite resources to make your job easier. A leader then will need an adept understanding of human motivations to both enlist their support and enhance his or her effectiveness.

One is here reminded of the tenure of President Ronald Reagan who received a great deal of affection from not only the American people, but the world at large. This affection grew with every moment of his presidency and even more after he left office. His funeral was attended by an outpouring of love and the media constantly portrayed him as a compassionate, father figure, a narrative that could not be countered even by those who disagreed with him politically. Reagan was able to navigate diverse interests and complexities to revamp the US economy and end the Cold War, through a combination of clear communication, personal charm and the ability to get others to cooperate with him.

Unlike President Reagan, his predecessor Jimmy Carter, a scientist of repute considered to be Reagan’s intellectual superior, did not have such an impressive tenure. Where Regan had an ordinary grasp of the issues of the day, Carter possessed considerable depth. But his presidency turned out a near-disaster. He was unable to sell ideas, rally people or build the political bridges needed to get anything significant done. Social intelligence, it is said, is the difference between outstanding leadership and the others. It was the difference between Carter and Reagan.

It was during the reign of the legendary Kind David, who became the model king for Israel, for all times, that history witnessed social intelligence at its best. After many years of running from Saul, David eventually assumed the position of king. But he inherited a fractured nation. Whilst Judah crowned him king, the 10 tribes of Israel remained with the house of Saul. But a combination of tact and empathy toward Israel’s leaders, living and dead, eventually saw David uniting the tribes and presiding as king over the entire nation. Also, his quick witted relational skills helped appease God and the aggrieved Gibeonites to end a devastating drought. He minded the high just like he minded the low.  The Bible says, “And David behaved wisely in all his ways…” He was an epitome of social intelligence.

While social intelligence comes as a personal flair to some, others must work to master it. For this to happen, the leader or aspiring leader, must become aware of the factors that make for a socially competent leader.

Someone said social intelligence actually begins with your choice of assistants and advisers because nothing else better define your:

I) Self-awareness; which is the quality of knowing how you think, walk, talk, dress and being conscious of the impact this has on other people.

ii) Authenticity; which requires being honest and sincere with yourself and others in any and every situation, speaking with your own voice, and being comfortable in your own skin.

iii) Clarity of communication. Socially intelligent leaders are able to employ the right language per situation. It was Oliver Wendell Holmes that said, “Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”

iv) Ability to sell a narrative that appeals to the people because they can clearly see that the leader holds their best interest at heart. It was Daniel Coleman that said, “When we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” What this means is that social intelligence will be nothing short of manipulative theatrics without genuine empathy. You either care or you don’t. And it’s only a matter of time before the people find out where your heart truly is.

It is my considered opinion that if the Nigerian leadership, overtime, needs to improve on one quality, it is social intelligence. Our ethnic, cultural and social diversities, which ordinarily should play to our advantage, have only served to polarize us. This makes the deficiency of social intelligence in our leadership all the more evident.  What we desperately need at this time are leaders who in the words of Franklin Roosevelt are able to “cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.” This applies to those who lead across spheres and those who aspire to leadership.

We must demonstrate an understanding of what it takes to build bridges of trust between the leadership and the led, and what it takes to allay the fears of minority and majority groups alike. Underpinning everything that constitutes social intelligence is empathy. Nigeria needs leaders who can connect to the desperation, poverty, frustration and fears of the people to communicate hope. And for the Nigerian people, within whose purview it is to decide who leads them, we must rise above every other sentiment to seek out and elect socially intelligent leaders in every sphere of leadership and governance.

Nigeria has a Great Future  

Mr. Taiwo Odukoya is the Senior Pastor of The Fountain of Life Church. He writes a weekly column, every Sunday, on christian living for Premium Times. Kindly give him feedback via pastortaiwo@tfolc.org  


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