When I was younger, I bought into the fallacy that the “smartest” person always won. I pushed myself to achieve the highest scores, earn the most recognition, and excel in every field.
I worked as hard as I could, but I almost always fell short of my goals.
Growing up, I often found myself surrounded by people who were smarter and far more talented than I could ever hope to be.
This left me feeling as though I was destined for a life of mediocrity, forever destined to live in the shadows of others.
Despite this, I always seemed to excel in the workplace. Throughout my career, from my first internship to my stint in corporate America, I managed to gain the trust and respect of my managers and peers.
As I climbed the proverbial ladder, many of the peers who were undoubtedly smarter than me jeered. They claimed that the people I worked for were idiots and that I was merely lucky. Still, I continued to move forward much to their chagrin.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, as I’m working to find the right school for my son, Jack.
Jack, it turns out, is exceptionally bright. With an IQ of 145, he’s in the top percentile of intelligence in a traditional sense.
You’d think that having such raw intellectual horsepower would make life easy for him, but it’s quite the opposite. He has all of the typical emotional challenges of a normal seven year old, and then some.
While his IQ is high, his EQ or emotional quotient, is lower than average. As a father, it’s my job to try to raise as well rounded of an individual as possible, and that’s why I spend so much time trying to nurture his EQ.
It turns out, success in both life and business is a matter of emotion, relationships, and character, rather than raw intelligence. In fact, throughout my career, I’ve learned three facts that every successful person seems to remember.
EQ trumps IQ
Maya Angelou once remarked, that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This certainly holds true in the realm of business. People buy emotions, not products. Teams rally around missions, not directives. Entrepreneurs take on incredible challenges because of passion, not logic.
Fortune follows people who demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence, or EQ. While IQ might be largely determined by genetics, EQ can be learned, developed, and refined.
Individuals with high EQ can speak to the soul of another person and ultimately influence their behavior. In the workplace, EQ trumps IQ every day of the week.
Humility goes a long way
Human beings crave status and recognition above just about all else. This is especially apparent in the workplace, where many buy into the belief that self-promotion is the path to success.
I’ve found that the opposite is true. Humility, it turns out, is central to success.
Everybody falls at some point. You stay humble so that the people around you want to help you up, not knock you back down.
As a leader, I’ve found that people who demonstrate humility in thought, word, and deed tend to rise quickly inside of an organization because people are naturally inclined to help them succeed.
Arrogant, entitled, and prideful employees, on the other hand, tend to fail rather spectacularly. They may be smart, but they’re unable to garner any loyalty from the people around them.
It all comes down to grit
Perhaps the most important factor in determining success is grit.
Grit is just another word for strength of character. An individual or team who displays grit is someone who can take a hit and just keep on going, no matter what.
It’s this resilience that enables successful teams to avoid the pitfalls of depression, lethargy, and apathy that people tend to run into when faced with adversity.
As I look back on my career to-date, I can honestly say that I never gave up. I pivoted and evolved, but I never capitulated.
Many highly intelligent individuals are so afraid of failure and hardship that they never take risks. Instead, they sit back, comfortable and safe while others drive the world forward.
These trailblazers stumble, fall, and fail more than their more risk-averse counterparts, but grit keeps them moving forward.
As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Nothing is simple
My advice to my son, as well as the students, friends, and team members I mentor is always the same: nothing in this life is simple.
It doesn’t matter how smart you are. What matters is how you’re able to connect, understand, and inspire other people.
Never think too highly of yourself just because you’re smart. In the end, it’s the people who understand feelings, not facts, who win the day.
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