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Why ‘Smart’ Isn’t What It Used To Be

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While the “soft smarts” of emotional and cognitive intelligence are tougher to quantify, data trends support prioritizing those qualities.

 After every great crisis, the great re-boot begins.  

This has been the case after everything from wars to economic shocks to famines, hurricanes and floods. And it is happening now with the presumed worst of the global pandemic behind us. 

As we navigate the complex path to recovery, the personal costs of chronic stress, isolation and prolonged insecurity are making their way onto business balance sheets.  

Society’s relationship with hierarchical authority has evolved, by necessity, into a more collaborative and flexible form during the height of the pandemic as offices shut down and priorities in all aspects of life shifted and changed. Leaders must now adapt traditional management metrics and assumptions.

For one, “smart” isn’t what it used to be. Attributes once prized as certain drivers of success have changed or are no longer valued to the same extent. The same is true of the working definition of “success.” 

EQ Matters  

The shift in expectations between employees and employers has placed greater emphasis on the emotional quotient—EQ in the workplace. Intelligence is defined in new and broader ways. For leaders who long paid lip service to the strategic value of expanding and diversifying their talent pipeline, it is time to deliver. Credentials, academic performance or even experience is not everything. That means that we need to go beyond the familiar sourcing and candidate polls or reliance on traditional measures of IQ.  

This sentiment is matched on the other side as well. According to a recent survey by Gartner Research, 82% of respondents now want to be seen by employers as “whole people” rather than solely as employees.  

To that end, leaders need to recalibrate their portfolio of management talent and prioritize adding greater EQ to the managerial mix.  

Another new requirement is that business leaders reconsider what it means to recruit the “smartest” candidate. 

While the “soft smarts” of emotional and cognitive intelligence may be tougher to quantify, data trends support moving those qualities to the forefront. A recent study by Ernst & Young found that 54% of workers left their previous job because their boss was not empathetic to their issues at work. A Pew Research report found similar trends: 57% of workers who quit a job in 2021 felt disrespected at work, and 45% cited their employer’s lack of flexibility. 

Cognitive Intelligence 

It’s also important to note that the divide between traditional, expertise-based IQ, and emotional intelligence must be bridged by greater recognition of cognitive intelligence. Cognitive intelligence is characterized by innate curiosity, the ability to quickly read a situation (and people), actively listen, quickly process, and synthesize disparate bits of new information for meaningful action.  

This shift in priorities—from solely IQ to more a holistic view—brings challenges. Traditionally, the formal credentials and quantifiable skills prioritized in the past were seen as direct contributors to productivity and competitive advantage. With this shift comes a re-ordering of organizational priorities, a re-training of existing managers as well as recruiting new ones.  

The challenges of breaking with past practices are many—and profound. But the way to the future lies, ironically, in another traditional maxim: just because things have always been done one way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. When the world changes, a true leader re-boots to adapt to it.


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