od | 29. 10. 2020 | Blog

First, it was intelligence and IQ which determined whether you would be successful or unsuccessful; more recently, it has been emotional intelligence.

Today – and not only in the corporate environment – the keywords are adaptability and AQ, which is even pushing into the background the traditional, widely popular, change management. Is it just a new buzz word or should we take adaptability seriously?

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When discussing IQ specifically in leaders, in a recent study published by the British Psychological Society experts examined 379 leaders from 30 European countries, who had an average IQ of 111 (the population average is 100).

Participants with an IQ of up to 120 had a positive and effective approach to leadership.

However, as the IQ rose, the relationship between a high level of intelligence and effective leadership “evened out and gradually began to fall at an IQ of 120”. I quote from the research: “Their scores in transformational and instrumental leadership were lower, on average than less smart leaders; and beyond an IQ of 128, the association with less effective leadership was clear and statistically significant”.

There can be therefore no doubt that intelligence is one of the predictions for success, however, what remains a question is, for example, whether leaders with a high IQ can put their trains of thought into words in a way that makes them acceptable and comprehensible to those around them. And this appears to be a crucial point in the topic of a leader’s IQ.

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For this reason, over the last few years, we have focused intensely on emotional intelligence, with an emphasis on empathy and communication. The importance of (not only) a leader’s EQ is incontestable today, but this concerns empathy per se, and empathy comes in many shapes and sizes.

To cut a long story short, we distinguish two types of empathy: emotional (feeling) and cognitive (understanding). If we “switch on” our emotional empathy and our colleague has a headache, we really do feel his/her pain. In this case, however, it is not clear whether the pain we feel is exactly the same as our colleague’s, even though that we do feel his/her pain (Tania Singer and Olga M. Klimecki, “Empathy and Compassion,“. Current Biology 24 2014).  If we intensely immerse ourselves in other people’s feelings and do so “properly” (for example perceiving information only through our senses), it is very likely that a within a short time we likely experience “burnout”, despite not feeling overburdened by work.

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When projecting, as we call emotional empathy (Adam Smith used the term “sympathy” in this sense), the relevance of another person’s feeling is only one side of the coin. It is worth mentioning when taking global leadership in particular into account how the leader’s individual moral values enter the decision-making process.

Each of us is a more or less mature individual who has grown up in a different environment and taken different principles and values with us into our life, which at the end of the day defines the way we live.

Cognitive empathy is the equivalent to the expression “rational compassion and understanding” (Paul Bloom, „Against Empathy The Case for Rational Compassion“, (2016) Vintage). As far as emotional empathy is concerned, this is a completely separate process, which Jarmil Zaki and Kevin Ochsner called “a tale of two systems” in their review article “The neuroscience of empathy: progress, pitfalls and promise“ (Zaki J, Ochsner KN. The neuroscience of empathy: progress, pitfalls and promise [published correction appears in Nat Neurosci. 2013 Dec;16(12):1907. Ochsner, Kevin [corrected to Ochsner, Kevin N]]. Nat Neurosci. 2012;15(5):675-680. Published 2012 Apr 15. doi:10.1038/nn.3085).

The first system, which we know under the traditional term of “empathy”, includes experiencing the feelings and sharing the experience of other people.

In contrast, the second system is literally an intervention into the trains of thought of other people and understanding them.

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Both systems can be active in the brain separately, as well as concurrently because these processes take place in different parts of the brain; experiencing feelings activates the anterior cingulate cortex, unlike cognitive empathy which activates the medial prefrontal cortex (just behind the forehead) – the same part which is active during critical thinking. 

As (not only) recent events show us, however, the combination of IQ and EQ is far from sufficient. At the rate of change of the external environment, it is starting to become clear that the good old “we need to change, we need to change processes or society” has put traditional change management as we know it into an unenviable position for the very reason that it is not a change that we need to strive for, but rather adapting to an already changed external environment should be our goal. 

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In this case, however, we are talking about a different process. If the world and our surrounding environment changes rapidly and constantly, then our ability to adapt to these changes reveals itself as a strong prediction for success. According to the authors of the study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (Andrew & Nejad, Harry & Colmar, Susan & Liem, Gregory Arief. (2013). Adaptability: How Students‘ Responses to Uncertainty and Novelty Predict Their Academic and Non-Academic Outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology. 105. 728. 10.1037/a0032794), adaptability is defined as appropriate cognitive, behavioral, and/or affective adjustment in the face of uncertainty and novelty and its value per se can predict to a significant extent, unlike other studied factors, our own potential and results. 

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof”

John Kenneth Galbraith

However, in the corporate world, in particular, the statement “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist” applies.

In this case, adaptability has a problem, because at the moment we can only measure it with great difficulty, if at all. So if we cannot measure it, then we cannot include it in plans and forecasts, and not at all in KPIs. The fact that we can compare adaptability literally to the willingness to learn continuously, to search for information from various sources and not to be afraid of making mistakes and even further, to reward errors might, however, be of help.

The World Economic Forum also pointed to the need for continuous education, specifically the creation of training programes in its 2017 statement.

In this context, it is almost shocking, and I am not afraid to say even incomprehensible, that at a time when the world is literally changing under our eyes, expenses for employee training are the first items to be cut from our budgets.

Would this also be the case if we included employee training, considering the change in circumstances, in a company’s investments?

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What else, if not human capital, is priceless, yet is society’s only value which is not subject on the one hand to depreciation and on the other clearly acts as a guarantee of the company’s competitive advantage and added value?

At the end of the day, it is good news that adaptability comes naturally to us. In the end, it is that adaptability that has allowed us, as a species, to survive and not to die out. Our brain is constantly changing (Norman Doidge, MD The Brain That Changes Itself, Penguin 2007) through a process known as neuroplasticity and if we want, we can actually help this natural process.  

In other words, adaptability can be coached. Under the guidance of experts, you, your employees, or HR specialists can become not only top specialists in their field of expertise but also people who are not taken back by a sudden change in circumstances, however major it is.

You will be able to rely on being able to take a trip out of your comfort zone when making decisions, without falling victim to stereotypes and fixed behavioral patterns which would not bring you and your company much success and happiness at the end of the road. And this is an offer you can’t refuse. After all, business isn’t made by technology and processes. Business is made by people.