When I was being interviewed for the top job at MRI, the process was long and arduous.  United Information Group owned the company at that time, and, toward the end, I was flown to London to undergo a series of interviews and assessments with the UIG consultant.   I was offered the job and up to my neck in problems when I received a packet with my “results” in the mail.  The assessments and interviewer had scored me on a number of dimensions: intellectual ability, thinking style, relationship management, drive and resilience, change capability, risk management, teamwork, commercial and customer skills and international potential.   But it was the assessor’s comments that left me fascinated and disturbed.  I won’t bore you with all the details, just the ones that led me to hold on to this assessment for 16 years:

Kathleen has an excellent set of interpersonal skills. Her level of assertiveness and desire to be in charge are similar to high level functioning leaders with the participative underpinnings that she demonstrates. Her preferred style is to give genuine attention to the needs of her subordinates and work in an integrative manner. Team building is one of her greatest strengths.

She is an average and conventional thinker.  Her own idea generation is quite average but she will use others to supplement her own thinking and she is open to new ideas.

She is disciplined and manages stress well. She will balance the needs of the clients with the needs of the shareholders.  Her achievement orientation is strong and she will add value to the business.

Kathleen is an example of the dominance of emotional intelligence over cognitive intelligence.  She should excel in this role.

You can guess what I focused on: this assessor thought I wasn’t very smart!  It took many years and much experience for me to appreciate that there truly are different kinds of intelligence that contribute to our success.  This is not news in the business world.  It was in 1998 when Daniel Goleman published the influential article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “What Makes a Leader?”  In that article he details how IQ and technical skills are important but it is emotional intelligence that is critical for leadership excellence.  Leadership excellence translates into bottom line performance.

Much research has reinforced the importance of emotional intelligence in the intervening years since Goleman first started publishing his work.  Yet most hiring at every level of many organizations emphasizes two criteria: previous relevant experience and educational background that is often used as a surrogate for a high IQ.

When I was in a position to hire, I ignored all the relevant research and made some awful decisions.  I hired for skills, industry reputation and past experience.  I threw in some “soft” criteria:  did I think this person would help me change our culture?  Without really acknowledging it, I hired people with whom I felt comfortable.  I let other senior managers have free rein in their hiring decisions until we had chaos. Finally, one of my senior executives who often served as my conscience (he controlled the money) volunteered to head up HR – removing the HR staff from a direct reporting line to me – and pleaded with me not to hire anyone else without checking with him first.  I’ll always be grateful.

A search on trends in recruiting going into 2017 turns up some advice for HR departments that ranges from anonymous screening and blind interviews to ways to recruit innovators (don’t be turned off if they seem arrogant) to look forward to the future needs of a changing business to determine your needs in a workforce.  This is all good advice.  But it doesn’t address that too often HR responds to the direction of the senior executive, and while that senior executive may have many strengths, it is often impossible for him or her to look at his or her own bias. HR needs to have enough clout to point it out.

I have long stopped being embarrassed that the assessor thought I was a conventional thinker.  I surrounded myself with very smart people who were innovative and creative.  I helped bring out the best in them.  But most importantly, I knew when to listen to them.  It helped our bottom line.



“What really matters for success, character, happiness and life long achievements is a definite set of emotional skills – your EQ — not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests.”     -Daniel Goleman