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“I supervise an engineer who’s in his early 30s. He’s very smart and isn’t afraid to let others know it. That’s the problem I wanted you to address. How do I help him see that he’s driving people away from him and hurting his work relationships with his condescending, know-it-all attitude? It’s gotten to the point where some people don’t work want to work with him when they are assigned to projects that he is a part of.”

In the executive coaching work we pursue in our consulting practice at ODC, this is a very common situation, so you can take some solace in knowing many managers confront the performance issue you outline in your question. In this column I will outline some performance coaching steps you might take to address the matter.

Before I do so, though, let me begin by noting that the “peak performance formula” for individuals is: Ability x Attitude = Achievement. In other words, high ability and a great attitude are the foundation for top performance.

Before I do so, though, let me begin by noting that the “peak performance formula” for individuals is: Ability x Attitude = Achievement. In other words, high ability and a great attitude are the foundation for top performance.

The employee in the question above is smart. He is probably a subject matter expert with a high IQ (i.e., intellectual quotient). But, he appears to lack interpersonal intelligence that we have come to associate with EQ (i.e., emotional quotient – the ability to recognize and manage feelings with oneself and others). He appears to have a hard time managing relationships with others.

In light of what I just offered, we can now make a change to the terms comprising our performance formula, as follows: IQ x EQ = Achievement.

While this is a simple formula, there is empirical evidence to support it. For example:

» In a meta-analytic study reported about 15 years ago, employment researchers documented that in selecting employees for all positions, the most effective predictors are general intelligence and conscientiousness. In practical terms, that means if you can hire someone who is smart and a hard worker, do so. Makes sense, doesn't it?

» Daniel Goleman, noted EQ researcher and author, cites a longitudinal study at Harvard University where graduates from professional schools were tracked into their careers to see how successful (i.e., salary, rank/title) they had become. The correlation between score on entrance exam (e.g., GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc.) and future success was determined to be zero! Intelligence alone did not account for how successful these graduates from prestigious programs at Harvard ultimately became.

» The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has documented that 80 percent of “rising stars” with whom they have worked, who had turned into “plummeting comets” shared a common problem, what CCL called an “interpersonal flaw or deficit.” Sound familiar? Like the engineer in the readers’s question (and like the kindergarten report card), these people did not “work and play well with others.”

» In his thought-provoking book, “Outliers,” social scientist Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” making the claim that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. He uses vivid examples to make his point, including the Beatles, Bill Gates, and Mozart.

» Legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden was once asked, “On a team where every player was a high school All America, how do you decide who to play?” Wooden’s response was, “I don’t play the best players; I play the players who play best together!”

» Finally, for Green Bay Packer fans, I paraphrase the immortal coach Vincent T. Lombardi who was asked, “Coach, what do you look for in a player that allowed you to turn a losing team into a championship caliber squad?” Lombardi’s response was, “I don’t look for Ph.D.s; I look for PSDs, players who poor, smart, and driven!”

So, what can you do to get this employee into better balance by bringing some interpersonal skills into the mix? Here are my suggestions:

First, start with a review of the job description within the context of a performance management discussion. Undoubtedly, the job description outlines what the incumbent employee is to do (i.e., tasks and responsibilities). Many organizations also have competencies that specify how the work is to be carried out. The “how” is what you want to focus on.

Next, I would recommend setting some interpersonal goals with him, specifying the kind of behavior you seek and the situations in which it will be observed. Without being too hard about it, I think you need to make the case that the issue he is confronting has career-related implications. It is often a career derailer, per the examples I noted above.

I encourage you to establish some behavioral indicators that both you and he can use to assess the extent to which the behavior is being pursued.

As I discussed in my December column, provision of feedback is critical. Find him “doing something right” (i.e., engaging in constructive, collaborative interactions) and let him know you noticed.

Along the way, you might want to expose him to some books, workshops, etc. as a boost so he can build a frame of reference for this area.

In the final analysis, incremental gains in this area can have a big impact. While he might not be able to move from letter “A” in the alphabet to letter “Z,” in terms of his interpersonal acumen, moving to letter “K,” might make all the difference in the world.

You have to have a “crucial conversation” with him to address the seriousness of the situation and encourage him to take ownership of his behavioral change agenda. Along the way, you can be there to mentor and support him. That is effective performance coaching. In doing so, you might be able to help address his weaknesses so he can turn his attention to fully utilizing his strengths. After all, as prolific management author Peter Drucker observed, “The point of addressing weaknesses is to make them irrelevant.”

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TAGS     iq,  human resources,  daniel schroeder,  consulting,  emotional quotient,  intellectual quotient,  leadership,  10000 hour rule
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About the Author

Daniel A. Schroeder, Ph.D. is president of Brookfield based Organization Development Consultants Inc. ( He can be reached at 262-827-1901 or Read More »

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