Building your team with the right people

In the business world, we are always looking for ways to gain advantage over the competition. For many years, organisations thought that bright, intelligent people were the key to superior performance. But intelligence in the form of a high IQ, we now know, doesn’t always translate into equally exemplary job performance. The connection is limited at best.

An intelligence quotient (IQ) is a measure of cognitive capacity – one’s ability to think and reason. IQ usually does not change much after the age of 12 to 15. Many non-manual jobs require an above-average IQ; that is, they have a “high IQ threshold”. But hiring someone with a high IQ is not a guarantee that they will perform well in the position.

The answer to why that is may rest in a conversation that took place between two psychology professors, John Mayer of the University of New Hampshire and Peter Salovey of Yale University, in 1987. Salovey and Mayer were discussing a particular bumbling politician and posed the question: “How could someone so smart act so inexplicably dumb?”

They came to the conclusion that good decision making requires more than intellect or what we normally think of as IQ. Mayer and Salovey soon developed the concept of emotional intelligence (EQ).

What makes a star performer?

Dan Goleman picked up on the EQ theme in his 1995 best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. One of the seminal studies of Goleman’s book involved star performers at the prestigious Bell Laboratories near Princeton University.

Managers were asked to identify the top performers among the engineers and scientists who worked there. All of the engineers and scientists were presumed to have high IQs to perform their jobs, yet some emerged as outstanding while others were just average.

Goleman used standard IQ and personality tests on both groups and found no substantial cognitive difference between the stars and the average workers. Based on this study, Goleman wrote in the Harvard Business Review that academic talent was not a good predictor of on-the-job productivity, nor was IQ.


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