Recently I shared the four pillars of executive presence and how you can enhance your professional credibility by employing these leadership traits. These pillars are emotional intelligence, technical competence, and abstract/conceptual thinking, and social intelligence. As an executive coach to higher education leaders, I have a unique vantage point for how these competencies translate into strategic leadership expertise. Credibility as a leader is dependent on how these competencies are executed on a daily basis. Let’s take a deeper look at how the social intelligence pillar informs executive presence. 

Social Intelligence as a part of Executive Presence

Social intelligence is defined as an acute ability to understand and navigate social interactions. As a higher education leader, engagement with faculty, staff, students, and external partners is consistently evaluated through the formation of deep, meaningful relationships that inspire trust to move work forward. Below are four social intelligence competencies that inform strong social intelligence. 

Competency 1: Self-Awareness

This aspect of social intelligence involves having a deep understanding of one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and values. Self-awareness allows leaders in the higher education space to accurately read their own emotions and how they influence their thoughts and behaviors. Self-awareness also enables the recognition of the  impact on others and how conscious choices are executed in  social interactions.

Let’s take the example of a CIO demonstrating self-awareness while receiving negative feedback from the Campus Life team about technology support: When the CIO receives negative feedback, they are self-aware and do not respond defensively or pridefully, but rather lead with listening and recognizing the importance of the Campus Life team’s perspective. The CIO can respond with a solutions mindset because they understand the importance of providing adequate support and are not distracted by their own possible emotions over receiving this feedback.

Competency 2: Social Perception

One of the key inputs into social intelligence is social perception or awareness. A leader’s ability to understand the needs, interests, and political dynamics in any given communication setting is crucial in developing social intelligence. This is important whether it’s a one-on-one meeting between colleagues or a large group meeting with staff. In essence, this equates to one’s ability to “read the room.”

A leader misreading the room and having a poor reaction from participants could be a Dean who announced a major change to the academic calendar without properly consulting with faculty. The Dean may have delivered the news in a way that was insensitive to the concerns of faculty and staff without proper explanation or prior discussion. In this scenario, the Dean may have misread the room by not thinking strategically about the possible concerns and opinions of the faculty and staff before making such a significant change. A higher level of social perception in forecasting how faculty would respond to these types of changes ould be helpful next time around.

Competency 3: Empathy

Next, empathy is a critical component of social intelligence. A higher education leader who is perceived as empathetic by their team is one who takes the time to understand the diverse perspectives and needs of the group, and who allows everyone to feel heard. 

During a one-on-one discussion with a faculty member, a department chair should pay attention to how concerns are expressed.  Solid social intelligence is demonstrated  by actively listening to the faculty member’s concerns and showing empathy towards their situation. Acknowledging how it feels to be in the faculty member’s position is a critical step to establish a trusting relationship and create a positive work environment. This fosters collaboration, open communication, and a sense of community within the department. Additional insight into managing difficult conversations is highlighted in here.

Competency 4: Social Influence

Another critical aspect of social intelligence is the ability to influence, persuade, and unify others around a common goal. A leader must recognize the interests of their stakeholders by reading nonverbal cues, identifying and leveraging social relationships, and building a culture of trust within their organization. This requires excellent communication skills, strategic thinking, and emotional intelligence.

A CFO  may carefully use their social intelligence to influence department perceptions for how financial resources are allocated across administrative units. Over the last several years as funding cuts in universities and colleges are more common, administrative leaders have had to do more with less. Leveraging social capital in communicating difficult news about reductions is the anchor for successful communication. Social capital is built through skills mentioned earlier such as empathy, self-awareness, active listening, and building trust. These skills, when employed effectively can result in a more productive conversation about how to reallocate resources to optimize necessary outcomes. 

Social Intelligence and Executive Presence

Higher education leaders who possess social intelligence are well-equipped to manage complex social situations and build successful relationships with stakeholders. By demonstrating strong self-awareness, as well as empathy and understanding, higher education leaders can expertly manage cross-campus relationships in a variety of social situations. The social intelligence pillar is deeply intertwined with the other three executive presence pillars that establish credibility, inspire confidence, and cultivate a supportive and harmonious environment. If you’d like to learn more your level of social intelligence and executive presence, reach out to me at [email protected], I’d love to chat.