Our Attitude More Than Our Aptitude Determines Our Altitude
“There’s a thin line between being #1 or #100 and mostly it’s mental.” — Jimmy Conners, American professional tennis player who won 109 professional singles titles during his career
Our society admires strength and power. Since the early games of the ancient Olympics, we’ve had contests of strength, stamina, speed, and the like. We’ve approached brainpower or intellectual abilities in the same way. We’re in awe of intellectual giants with memory, reasoning, or complex problem solving abilities far beyond our own. IQ tests were developed to measure this intellectual strength and power. We’ve come to believe that highly intelligent people make the best professors, doctors, managers, scientists, and so on. Many people believe that high IQ and high levels of success and happiness go together.
But many intellectual giants are emotional dwarfs. We all know people who can run mental circles around us lesser mortals, but their lives are a mess. Many “do not suffer fools gladly.” Their cutting wit or biting sarcasm often shows an arrogant, superior attitude that arouses resentment and reduces cooperation. This usually results in badly damaged relationships, businesses, families, or teams. Something is missing. We know there’s much more to a successful life than a strong head; we also need a strong heart. Intelligence is only part of the equation; we also need to deal with the human factors — the humanness in others and ourselves. We need to deal with emotional factors.
An exciting new field of study is emerging around what’s being called emotional intelligence. Many books, studies, and EQ testing instruments are exploding on the scene. Psychologist, author, and New York Times journalist, Daniel Goleman got things going with his international bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Here’s how he defines emotional intelligence, “abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.” That’s a great definition of personal effectiveness. It’s also a pretty good outline of many of the timeless leadership principles.
I showed this EQ definition at a leadership development workshop. One of the participants was a sports psychologist who helps Olympic athletes improve their mental conditioning. He instantly responded to the quotation with the observation that it was a great definition of a world-class athlete. As baseball player and manager, Yogi Berra, said, “success in any sport is 90% physical skills and the other half is mental.” Nobody ever accused Yogi of being an intellectual giant — nor much of a mathematician.
A well researched book, Emotional Intelligence brings together the scientific proof that it’s our attitude more than our aptitude that determines our altitude. Goleman’s research leads him to conclude, “at best IQ, contributes about 20 percent to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80 percent to other forces.” This is overly conservative according to EQ researchers and authors Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf. In their book, Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership & Organizations, they write, “— IQ may be related to as little as 4 percent of real-world success — over 90 percent may be related to other forms of intelligence — it is emotional intelligence, not IQ or raw brain power alone, that underpins many of the best decisions, the most dynamic and profitable organizations, and the most satisfying and successful lives.”