The purpose of a business is to turn a profit – you ?

I finally found time to read an interesting article that was passed along to me earlier this month by my colleague Josh Hyman at Empire Surgical called “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership.” The article was published in the Harvard Business Review last year (September 2008).

Now I must admit HBR’s stock sunk way down into a black hole for me when they couldn’t go more than 2 issues without writing some piece in high praise of Enron back-in-the-day. It’s more than being a revisionist historian on my part…HBR was Enron’s biggest cheerleader, they bought the whole “these guys are the smartest people in the world and are single handedly going to change the way business is conducted” nonsense without ever once offering critical analysis. I expected better from them and to my knowledge they never set their record straight on this.

So perhaps with a little bit of this still gnawing at me and recognizing it’s hard to really argue with the central points in this particular article, I still found it somewhat lacking because it read too simplistic to me. The article is written from a single point of view, in almost an antiseptic vacuum because it does not take into account the full range of contributing factors and stakeholder analysis. Let’s start with their subject Janice. Please don’t tell me that her interpersonal awkwardness only became apparent after she was promoted! We can only speculate on the actual reasons why she was promoted (though I can assure you it’s not what they portray) and based on the way this reads it also would appear that the company did very little to cultivate her leadership capabilities before she was promoted. Like many, she adopted a mentor after blowing up in the job. How many times do we see this? Preactive versus proactive versus reactive management; the fact her company evidently practiced the latter when the ideal state is the first (preactive is to anticipate well before) leads me to one question: who screwed up, Janice or the boobs that promoted her when she was not ready for the job?

Once the stock market became liberalized, when every bus driver and sewer worker (we’ll call them Ralph and Ed) moved on from the pool hall and bowling alley to Schwab and eTrade, becoming “expert” flipping stocks and less interested in winning the Raccoon Lodge best costume contest, companies had to adopt short-term mentality. Consequently, decisions were made to promote people who demonstrated an ability to quickly put up numbers rather than build anything. Social intelligence, at best, became a nice to have rather than an important consideration. Sure, it’s interesting stuff, it will undoubtedly get airtime at company meetings, consultants and trainers will earn big money popping off about all this, but tell me how it translates to and meshes in with a fundamentally flawed prevailing mentality?

Now let’s apply it to a more visible and recent stage. There has been no more public a flogging than Rick Waggoner and GM; I know of no company that has a more genteel socially intelligent culture than General Motors. Make no mistake about it; Waggoner is a brilliant and wonderfully accomplished man. So how is it possible that he flew to DC in a private jet for a congressional hearing in January, with no prepared notes, to ask for government money? Even a clueless dope knows better than that! Heck, a politician—the audience he was appealing to—would have driven in the cheapest Chevy car made, stopping for photo ops in cities like Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Wheeling, etc, along the way showing himself to be a sincere, humble, man of the people. With all the executives, PR professionals, etc. at GM do you really think nobody else knew this? So how did he seal his own fate by making this colossal mistake?

Because in Corporate America, the job is to go home and yuk it up with the spouse that “The Emperor Has No Clothes” but never to tell that to the Emperor for fear it would be damaging to the career. The sum is always greater than the whole…my job, my department, my budget, my preservation will always trump the corporation.

Interestingly, I spent a great deal of time in DC recently. One night, while I was there, I had dinner with two former high ranking officials in the former administration. In their world—to this day, even after serving the most failed administration perhaps in history—they remain committed to their mission…in their world the whole is always greater than the sum. These are very smart, very accomplished, incredibly skilled professionals…they’re not panderers. And while I respect them and like them, I am certainly no fan if their politics. How often do we see business people engage in turf wars, unable to disagree without being disagreeable? Rarely! I’m helping them launch a business, in fact, because we can agree, disagree, never lose sight of the goal.

The purpose of a business is to turn a profit. To me, that’s where social and emotional intelligence is applied. Whether it’s this gal Janice or countless others, typically practiced by entire companies, social and emotional intelligence falls dreadfully short because “me” is always greater than “we”.

So in my sum, the article tells us the anyhow…but Goleman & Boyzatis do not go deep enough, wide enough, or apply it well enough to be useful.

Just my 2 pennies

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