Social Intelligence & High-Performance Team Leadership

Posted June 27, 2024 | Leadership |
Social Intelligence & High-Performance Team Leadership

When we think of a high-performance team, what comes to mind? A Super Bowl champion football team, an eight-person Olympic rowing crew, or maybe a Formula 1 racing team and its pit crew? Probably all the above. But what exactly are the ingredients that make a team high-performance? 

If nothing else, we know this: building one takes significant effort and does not happen overnight. High performance does not occur until all members of the team are working together like a well-oiled machine. Whether they’re athletes, firefighters, or corporate executives, people are the essence of any team — how they get along (or do not) influences the degree to which it succeeds.

For the most part, organizations tend to focus on competencies rather than communications and relationship skills when recruiting talent. Regardless of the competencies team members are recruited for, having a collaborative team with strong interpersonal communications is fundamental to organizational success. And it is the character of the team members that largely determines the outcome of those interpersonal communications.

In public sector organizations such as fire services, how we relate to one another can be the key to whether initiatives are carried out effectively and goals are achieved. In fact, when it comes to creating a healthy organization, alignment at the top dictates how effective divisional/departmental teams will be.

Providing responsive services to the community requires integrating the fire services into a high-performance team. But there is a caveat: it is vital to be aware of potentially destructive personalities, including those who appear to be on board but who actually have differing intentions. When those personalities are vetted accordingly and a team of individuals who exude character are being governed and led by a socially intelligent leader, the ingredients are in place to create a high-performance team.

In this Advisor, we explore one aspect of high-performance teams: the importance of leaders who display social intelligence when leading and putting the team together.

Social Intelligence as Integral to the Virtue of Humanity

In 1920, Columbia University psychologist Edward Thorndike noted the importance of studying a person’s ability to understand and manage men and women effectively. He conceptualized the first iteration of a discipline called “social intelligence,” and it goes beyond how emotions affect our relationships with other people and ourselves. Social intelligence is about how we relate to one another and the biology behind it.

In a 1920 article, Thorndike wrote that “the best mechanic in a factory may fail as a foreman for lack of social intelligence.” In other words, how we get along (or do not get along) with others has been a strong indicator of leadership as far back as the early 20th century. Unfortunately, due to its association with social situations, the idea of social intelligence as an important leadership quality lay dormant for decades, dismissed as unimportant.

In the early 2000s, the VIA Institute on Character wanted to explore the positive traits of human character, including whether they could affect outcomes. After a comprehensive three-year study involving 55 distinguished scientists, it formalized the 24 key traits that make a person morally good and included social intelligence. After being dismissed for years, scientists finally accepted social intelligence as integral to human character. Social intelligence, along with kindness and love (valuing others), make up the theme of humanity. Humanity is one of six themes that capture the values/virtues/traits explored in the study (with wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, and transcendence being the others).

Expanding further, Daniel Goleman, known for popularizing EQ (emotional intelligence) as being more important than IQ (intelligence quotient), wrote in his seminal book Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships that “we might think of social intelligence as a shorthand term for being intelligent, not just about our relationships, but also in them.” One determinant of how someone interacts in relationships has to do with their personality. In the end, social intelligence encompasses behaviors of the character dimension of humanity.

[For more from the author on this topic, see: “Humanity, Social Intelligence & High-Performance Teams: Character Lessons for the Public Sector.”]

About The Author
James Rychard
James R. Rychard is a 21-year firefighter/instructor from the City of Burlington, Ontario, Canada. He is an accomplished author, contributing to renowned publications such as Firefighting in Canada and Canadian Firefighter. Mr. Rychard recently joined 23 other Canadian professionals with the publication of his article “Guarding Against Burnout in the Emergency Services: A Firefighter’s Perspective” in Canadian Journal of Criminal Justice Report… Read More