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Neural ballet, the art of success

By Anna Campbell

I had a debate with my mother recently- she gets most alarmed when she appears in my columns and quite rightly so, as this time we had quite different opinions on the question at hand:

Would you rather be Dux of your school or Head Prefect?

My mother’s adamant response was that Dux was the superior prize, while my response -just as adamantly- was Head Prefect. In my time at school I was neither, so let’s be real here, I would be perfectly happy with either as they are both great achievements, but given the choice I would choose Head Prefect every time. Head Prefects are generally selected for their combination of solid academic performance, extra-curricular performance and social intelligence. The latter for me being the crux as in my view “Emotional Intelligence” or EQ, is every bit as important as IQ as a tenet for success.

Social intelligence- key to business success

Recently, I watched a YouTube clip featuring Professor Alec Horniman who teaches Leadership and Organisational Effectiveness at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia. Prior to teaching at Darden, Professor Horniman worked in a space and aviation technology business and he said that even in such a technical business the “biggest problems we had were interpersonal, people relating to other people”. 

People and the culture of an organisation are the biggest drivers of success for any type of business, whether it be corporate, farming or retail. My husband and I learned this the hard way in past businesses, when we employed people for skills ahead of character with sometimes disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, I don’t know many small businesses or farming people who don’t have similar stories. That is not to say that technical skills are not important, of course they are, they are vital, but generally there should be a balance between technical or intellectual skills and character and interpersonal skills.

It is interesting that we often describe skills associated with emotional intelligence as “soft skills”, a patronising term which raises my ire. I have seen many technical and financial people shake their heads derisively at the thought of going on training courses or being willing to spend more time developing such skills. In reality, sociability, self-awareness, leadership skills, and our ability to connect with people are an incredibly complex science. Author and psychologist, Dr Daniel Goleman, describes this science as “neural ballet” and even “neural jujitsu”, far better terms in my view than “soft skills” as they demonstrate the complex emotional world we live in and the social agility and ability required for successful social connectivity.     

I admire people with great technical skills and absolutely believe technology and science are key to our country’s economic future. But it is fascinating to think that even within great science and technical businesses and organisations, the biggest challenges they have are interpersonal, even with all of our modern communication aids.

So what would be your choice- Dux or Head Prefect? All I can really say is thank goodness there are so many wonderfully successful people I know that were neither Dux nor Head prefect and there is hope for us all. No matter what, whichever angle we favour, we can all work to improve both our emotional and intellectual capabilities. Just please, don’t shake your head if someone asks you to attend a human relations or leadership course… get out your pink shoes and think of it as learning the art of neural ballet, you will never be fitter!