Dan Erwin: Emotional intelligence

Political Intelligence Is a Lot More Important Than Emotional Intelligence

There’s no question but that the psychologist, Daniel Goleman, has had a great run with his emotional intelligence. The fad struck a chord among business people and has shown itself to be fairly useful. Furthermore, the constant emphasis on the emotional response of empathy has sometimes resulted in better business relationships, all of which makes for better team and cross-disciplinary relationships. When, that is, people have the soft skills to use the emotional insights surfacing. But that, of course is a more complicated, but very learnable and coachable set of issues.

However, it should be very clear that political intelligence is a lot more important for personal and organizational success than emotional intelligence.  By political intelligence in business, I refer to the ability to gain buy-in and/or support from people with differing or potentially differing agendas to achieve one’s own personal objectives and enable others to achieve theirs. The unstated fact about teams is firstly, that they hold together because they have a common interest in survival and success, and secondly, because they practice politics—not because they agree about “fundamentals” or “principles” or some such vague notion. That bottom line can, admittedly, be pretty dark. But bear with me. This is the kind of expertise that is often talked about in derogatory terms. And you may not recognize its real value and necessity until you have more responsibility than just taking orders and following through.


Far and away the most appropriate analogy for politics is sexuality. They are both activities with a number of unstated objectives that make more formal discussions unnecessary--and sometimes undiscussable. Granted, sexuality is a more widespread activity than political action. But the person who can live without either is either inhumanly sterile or an alien from another planet. Furthermore, in contrast to emotional intelligence, the basic characteristics of both politics and sexuality are absolute necessity and unpredictability. In addition, both politics and sexuality are activities in which the range of conduct is far greater than what we are willing to engage. But they both must be carried on to some degree or else both organizations and humanity will cease to exist..

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