There’s “Smart” And There’s “Smart”

Here’s a scenario that’s all too common.  The CEO of a nonprofit association takes a really well-conceived, handsomely presented strategy for launching the pilot test of a new member service to his board.  It’s a fine piece of work:  documenting the need, articulating the objectives, laying out the action steps involved in getting the new service launched, pinning down the projected revenue and cost figures.  This is finished staff work at its finest, and the CEO does a great job of presenting it at the board meeting, using very attractive PowerPoint slides to get the key points across.

So what happens?  You’ve probably guessed it:  thumbs down.  Why?  Not because the CEO isn’t smart; his mama definitely didn’t raise a dumb kid.  It’s just that his smart is one-sided; logical, yes, but emotionally deficient.   A CEO with a well-rounded intelligence would have recognized that all people, not just board members, are far more likely to go along with something you’re recommending, if they feel ownership of your recommendation, and ownership has to do with emotion, not logical reasoning or well-crafted staff work.  So being smart means both being rational and logical, on the one hand, and being emotionally intelligent on the other.  In the hypothetical case I opened with, this means taking the trouble to involve board members in shaping the new service strategy early-on, not just giving them your finished work, as a way of transforming them into owners.

In his thought-provoking column in the Tuesday, March 8 New York Times, David Brooks calls the recognition of the need for a well-balanced intelligence the “new humanism.”  He points out that for some time “we have tended to define human capital in the narrow way, emphasizing IQ, degrees, and professional skills.”  He refers to recent research that “illuminates a range of deeper talents, which span reason and emotion and make a hash of both categories.”  According to Brooks, these talents include “attunement,” which is the ability to “enter other minds and learn what they have to offer,” and “sympathy,” which is the ability “to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.”

I’ve certainly recognized Brooks’ new humanism at work when I see emotionally savvy nonprofit CEOs pay close attention to the normal ego needs of their board members, taking practical steps to foster feelings of satisfaction and ownership, rather than relying on reason and logic alone to get their board members to take action.

Doug Eadie