Social, academic intelligence, leadership


People management issues: Robert Mandeya

RECENTLY, in one of the WhatsApp group which I follow, a heated debate erupted over whether success was a preserve of the academically gifted.

The debate was sparked by the posting on the group of some candidates’ results in last year Advanced and Ordinary level examinations. In one of the transcripts posted, a candidate had four As at O’ Level whilst on the other the candidate had 15 As at O’ level. Apparently, these candidates were from the same school.

Coming from a teaching background myself, I was so impressed by these results until one comment on the group jolted my attention and got me thinking long and hard.

The comment read something like this: “This is good but only a handful from this school is in managerial positions. They are taught to pass, not critical thinking. In any day, I would prefer someone from a different school.” It prompted me to write an article on “critical thinking”, which I shared on this column a couple of weeks ago. From the said article, there were some responses from followers of this column on the distinction between critical thinking and social intelligence. I will attempt in this installment to share a few insights on social versus academic intelligence.

Social, academic intelligence

Ronald E Reggio, a psychologist, says “intelligence, or IQ, is largely what you are born with. Genetics play a large part. Social intelligence (SI), on the other hand, is mostly learned. SI develops from experience with people and learning from success and failure in social settings. It is more commonly referred to as “tact,” “common sense,” or “street smarts.”

While the two are conceptually distinct but overlapping constructs, professor Abletor Sedofia from the University of Ghana further posits that “Academic excellence is overrated,” adding that “being top of your class does not necessarily guarantee that you will make more money than everybody else.” Sedofia, drawing from his experience in university education, goes on to elaborate his point, saying, “The best graduating Law student does not necessarily become the best lawyer. The fact is life requires more than the ability to understand a concept or memorise it and reproduce it in an exam.” I found this view quite profound, but he does not end there. He further argues that, while school rewards people for their memory, life rewards people for their imagination. Consequently, school rewards caution, whereas life rewards daring. In the same vein, school hails those who live by the rules, whereas life exalts those who break the rules and set new ones. So does Sedofia mean people should not study hard in school? Oh no, they should. But do not sacrifice everything on the altar of first class. Do not limit yourself to the classroom. Do something practical. In other words, social skills or social intelligence is critical in one’s success in life — be it in business leadership and or corporate leadership. Not only that, but even in political and national leadership.

Social intelligence key elements

Verbal Fluency and Conversational Skills—You can easily spot someone with lots of SI at a party or social gathering because he or she knows how to “work the room.” The highly-socially intelligent person can carry on conversations with a wide variety of people, and is tactful and appropriate in what is said. Combined, these represent what are called “social expressiveness skills”.

l Knowledge of social roles, rules, and scripts — Socially intelligent individuals learn how to play various social roles. They are also well-versed in the informal rules, or “norms,” that govern social interaction. In other words, they “know how to play the game” of social interaction. As a result, they come off as socially sophisticated and wise.

l Effective listening skills — Socially intelligent persons are great listeners. As a result, others come away from an interaction with an SI person feeling as if they had a good “connection” with him or her.

l Understanding what makes other people tick — Great people watchers, individuals high in social intelligence attune themselves to what others are saying, and how they are behaving, in order to try to “read” what the other person is thinking or feeling. Understanding emotions is part of emotional intelligence, and social intelligence and emotional intelligence are correlated — people who are especially skilled are high on both.

Role playing and social self-efficacy — The socially intelligent person knows how to play different social roles, allowing him or her to feel comfortable with all types of people. As a result, the SI individual feels socially self-confident and effective — what psychologists call “social self-efficacy”.

Impression management skills — Persons with SI are concerned with the impression they are making on others. They engage in what I call the “Dangerous art of impression management,” which is a delicate balance between managing and controlling the image you portray to others and being reasonably “authentic” and letting others see the true self.
This is perhaps the most complex element of social intelligence.

Developing social intelligence

It takes effort and hard work. Begin by paying more attention to the social world around you. Work on becoming a better speaker or conversationalist. Networking organisations, or speaking groups, such as Toastmasters, are good at helping develop basic communication skills.

Work on becoming a more effective listener, through what is called “active listening” where you reflect back what you believe the speaker said in order to ensure clear understanding. Most importantly, study social situations and your own behaviour. Learn from your social successes and failures. I will give some more specific SI exercises in future installments.

The point here is, whatever the case, think less of becoming an excellent student but think more of becoming an excellent person. Start a business and fail, that is a better entrepreneurship, join or start a club, contest an election and lose; it will teach you something, attend a seminar, read books outside the scope of your course, do something you believe in, I can go on and on, but the thing is, make the world your classroom!

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). —, or +263 772 466 925.