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What Got You Here Won't Get You There
January 21, 2011
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

When it comes to an entry level job (think 22 year old right out of college, or an 18 year old high school grad), overall intelligence is the best predictor of job success. In an entry-level job, being smart can compensate for a range of other characteristics. However, the further you progress in your career, the more above average intelligence becomes a table stake to be in the game.  The more your career progresses, the less it differentiates you. In other words, “what got you here won’t get you there.”

Once you have reached a point in your career where intelligence or technical skill no longer differentiates you, emotional intelligence becomes an increasingly important differentiator.

A 2005 study by the Center for Creative Leadership studied leaders who had progressed to manager level and then had involuntarily stalled or been demoted/fired. These were the key derailers that were identified as contributing:

  • Inability to change or adapt during a transition
  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Failure to build and lead a team
  • Failure to meet business objectives

At least three of these are directly related to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has four facets:

  • Your own awareness of your emotions and reactions
  • Your ability to accurately identify other peoples emotions and perspectives
  • Your ability to manage/contain your own emotions in times of stress
  • Your ability to use awareness and self-management to build productive relationships

 The good news about emotional intelligence is that much more so than general intelligence/ability, emotional intelligence can be developed. For example, think of a recent difficult situation or conversation you encountered. Imagine yourself from one or two decades earlier in your career encountering the same situation. Hopefully, your response in this moment was more thoughtful, self-aware, and productive than your reaction might have been earlier in your life. That difference is an example of how emotional intelligence tends to develop naturally as we age.

 But what if you don’t have a decade to tackle those internal challenges that might derail your career? In my experience, executives who are serious about coaching are often able to develop a decade worth of emotional intelligence in 18 months. 

 Additionally, leaders who have a productive relationship with his/her spouse, often find they get top notch coaching from the spouse. Emotional intelligence is often about working around blind spots in our own awareness of self or others. There is a great deal of overlap between the blind spots in our personal life and our professional life. Often spouses are well positioned to identify when a relationship has encountered a blind spot, and (hopefully) diplomatically point it out.  This accurate mirroring of our behavior is one of the most powerful ways to increase our emotional intelligence, should be chose to listen to it.

Other suggestions: 360 evaluations, reading books on the people aspects of leadership, observation of people who are highly effective in working with others, and asking regularly for feedback (and listening to it non-defensively so people tell us the truth).



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