THE BLOG
08/07/2014 01:01 pm ET | Updated Oct 07, 2014

IQ Doesn't Predict Success

Sergey Nivens via Getty Images


I recently read Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller David and Goliath. Malcolm was befuddled by the finding that many of those in the mid to low achievement spectrum of Ivy League schools did not turn out to be world leaders -- despite their SAT scores being higher than even the best students at the so-so colleges, who fared better.

Gladwell's reasoning was slightly muddled. He assumed that academic abilities should predict how well we do in life. They don't.

Gladwell proposes that the relatively poor performance of students who scored average grades at highly competitive schools suffer from a learned low self-confidence from being small fish in a big pond. That may be part of the picture, but there's much more to it.

Studies at the University of Pennsylvania have found that students who don't have the highest IQs in their class but get high grades share a quality called "grit." They keep plugging away despite any setbacks or failures. And a 30-year longitudinal study of more than a thousand kids -- the gold standard for uncovering relationships between behavioral variables -- found that those children with the best cognitive control had the greatest financial success in their 30s. Cognitive control predicted success better than both the child's IQ and the wealth of his or her family.

Cognitive control refers to the abilities to delay gratification in pursuit of goals, maintaining impulse control, managing upsetting emotions well, holding focus, and possessing a readiness to learn. Grit requires good cognitive control. No wonder this results in financial and personal success.

To further understand what attributes actually predict success, a more satisfying answer lies in another kind of data altogether: competence models. These are studies done by companies themselves to identify the abilities of their star performers. Competence models pinpoint a constellation of abilities that include grit and cognitive control, but go beyond. The abilities that set stars apart from average employees cover the emotional intelligence spectrum: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social effectiveness.

Both grit and cognitive control exemplify self-management, a key part of emotional intelligence. IQ and technical skills matter, of course: they are crucial threshold abilities, what you need to get the job done. But everyone you compete with at work has those same skill sets.

It's the distinguishing competencies that are the crucial factor in workplace success: the variables that you find only in the star performers -- and those are largely due to emotional intelligence.

These human skills include, for instance, confidence, striving for goals despite setbacks, staying cool under pressure, harmony and collaboration, persuasion and influence. Those are the competencies companies use to identify their star performers about twice as often as do purely cognitive skills (IQ or technical abilities) for jobs of all kinds.

That's why I've argued we should be teaching these life skills to every student. It's your expertise and intelligence that get you the job -- but your emotional intelligence that makes you a success.

You can learn more about developing skills for future leaders in my new book with Peter Senge, The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education.

This article was first published on LinkedIn.