Social Intelligence And Business: Seven Key Principles To Get Ahead In Your Career

Social Intelligence And Business: Seven Key Principles To Get Ahead In Your Career

Being a good leader is not easy – whether it is running your own business, or being in a leadership position at a company. And it’s not just in business. The leadership skills are applicable in all aspects of your life — whether you are a parent, friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, or a baseball player. There are several hidden challenges that lie beneath the surface. Technical and job function skills can only serve up to a point. When you take on a leadership role, you are judged on how you deal with people, intentions, emotions, and VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.)

A leader must take time to understand social science. Karl Albrecht defines social intelligence as “the ability to get along well with others, and to get them to co-operate with you.” Social intelligence is also called “people skills.” It includes an awareness of situations and the social dynamics that govern them, and knowledge of interaction styles and strategies that can help a person achieve his or her objectives in dealing with others. Socially adept people have these five social behavior attributes – Situational awareness, Presence, Authenticity, Clarity, and Empathy. Effective leaders build resonant relationships with those around them, and social intelligence plays a big role in one’s ability to cultivate relationships.

Daniel Goleman, a prominent psychologist, who made the term emotional intelligence popular, talks about the link between emotional intelligence and leadership in this article from 2004.

Without [emotional intelligence], a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.

Neuroscientists, business leader, and psychologists have identified many characteristics that are native to a good leader. The skills mentioned in this article will touch all facets of your life, not just business. Here are seven important ones.

1. Optimism

There are two approaches to challenges – problem-based, and strength-based. Optimists use the strength-based approach, where they see what is working well and not what is not. The positive thinking in the background primes the brain for better insights in business settings. It enables the brain to get to the solutions faster with greater efficiency.

Read Optimism: 5 steps to go from being a pessimist to an optimist

Use Mindfulness: Mindfulness and meditation are known to help people with reducing anxiety and stress. It is a powerful tool in a leader’s toolbox. Rather than thinking about the self, mindfulness results in people being aware of themselves without thinking. This has been shown to decrease amygdala activation, whereas self-reflection actually increases amygdala activation compared to doing something neutral. Stress and anxiety lights up amygdala, whereas, you make better business decisions when you are calm.

Mindfulness also makes a person compassionate, which results in higher emotional and social intelligence. Compassion is not only towards your team members, but also towards yourself. (video: Jon Kabat-Zinn on mindfulness)

2. Fairness

Humans respond favorably to fairness; no points in guessing that. Fairness is of seminal importance in business environment. Your team wants to believe that you are fair and that their actions will result in a fair response from you. If they see you as a fair person, they will collectively do what it takes for the success of the team and the business. Unfair intentions can be easily read by mirror neurons, and because of this, even unconscious intentions need to be authentic and not devious.

Throwing more money at your employees only works for the short-term. The brain responds not to just money but fairness as well. If leaders are looking to increase productivity, consider whether the money fix is fair or not; otherwise, the intended reward-based motivation will be less than desired. When leaders seek and achieve cooperation from their followers, they are activating the brain’s reward center, which will have tangible effects on motivation and productivity.

3. Trust

Your followers – your employees, your team, and your customers – have to trust you. If a follower does not have faith in you or the organization, the business will not function optimally. Leaders tend to worry about faith and trust later, without acknowledging that it is one of the most important factors that glues the parts together. In his book Your Brain and Business, Srinivasan S. Pillay says,

When there is a breach of trust, the brain’s conflict detector (ACC) turns on the brain’s alarm (the amygdala), which then informs the reward centers (VTA, ventral striatum, and septal nuclei) and insula, which in turn sends this information to the dorsal striatum and back to the amygdala. The information is that there is no reward forthcoming. The dorsal striatum then sends this information to motor-planning regions in the brain, thereby affecting resulting actions. The greater the amygdala activation with a breach in trust, the more the other regions will keep this amygdala activation going by “telling it” that no reward is forthcoming. This limits activation of the action center, which then stalls.

You can get action from your team without trust, but that action is drowned in fear.

When your employees don’t trust you, and are staying at the job because they need a job, they will detach themselves from their emotions. The work they produce will lack soul, and so will your work environment.

4. Persuasion

Leaders, by the very nature of their job descriptions, are charged with the tasks of having to persuade people to a particular view or course of action. To improve persuasive power, managers and leaders have to activate mirror neurons in the network of the listener’s brain. This activation depends highly on the ability to share emotions (as opposed to impose or demand), and requires authentically giving up one’s own emotional identity about an issue and taking on an identity that represents the needs of all the people in the company.

Read Six ways to get them to say yes – The art of persuasion to learn how to improve your persuasion and influencing skills.

5. Inclusion of people

Experiments in neuroscience have examined how the brains of socially included people differ from those who are not. Lonely people notice distress much more. They tend to be less rewarded by positive social stimuli, as was indicated by a study that showed that the brain’s reward system (the ventral striatum) activated weakly to social stimuli in lonely people. Isolation of your employees results in their marginalization from the rest of the organization, and it results in decreased productivity. Integration of employees into the social and corporate fabric of the company is not a moral decision, but a strategic, business one that will raise the motivation and productivity of your team.

Stimulating a sense of community has an impact on productivity by improving attention and goal-directed performance. Novel ideas are more likely to be expressed in communities, and when leaders promote communities over isolation, their followers are appropriately sensitive to reward as opposed to being socially isolated, which, in general, will activate the brain’s reward center less, thereby diminishing the impact of incentives that the leader may be offering.

6. Body language

A lot has been said about the virtues of non-verbal communication. It becomes increasingly important as you assume a leadership position. Through your body language, you show to the world how you manage time, space, appearance, posture, confidence, facial expressions, and eye contact. Understand body language well. It will be your best silent assistant when you meet potential business partners, negotiate, or try to influence change in your team.

Leaders should also be aware that their body language automatically affects others without knowing. A mirror neuron fires both when you act, and when you observe that action performed by another. People around you will therefore mirror your non-verbal language subconsciously. So, be aware of your conscious and unconscious body language — 55% of what you convey comes from your body language.

Here's a great TED talk on body language by Amy Cuddy.

7. Building Relationships

Building relationships is critical to a leader’s success. Once you move into a leadership position, thinking about other people becomes a part of your job. It’s not about what you know any longer; it is about whom you know. Building relationships should not be limited to people you work with on a daily basis. Good leaders develop relationships with people who are not like them — for example, those who work in different departments, have different skill sets, or belong to different peer groups.

As we discussed in Office Politics: How to play the politics game ethically and win it building relationships is critical if you want to be an ethical, politically savvy leader. Joel DeLuca in his book Political Savvy defines political savvy as

Ethically building a critical mass of support for an idea you care about.

You cannot build a critical mass of support for your ideas without a solid foundation of relationships. The 6 principles we discussed above complement each other and form the building blocks of relationship building skill.

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