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Social intelligence is at the heart of leadership. After all, leadership is mainly about converting people’s potential into performance, and aligning their contributions towards an objective. And this requires understanding them and then connecting with them at emotional level by interpreting subtle cues and invisible interconnections.This is ‘Social intelligence’ at work!

And when it comes to leadership in corporate, this social intelligence gets manifested in leaders’ ability to: form long-term associations and close alliances, win unflinching trust of people who matter, earn reputation of being an earnest and empowering team-player, and gain respect for upholding the higher values for larger purposes.

On the basis of the aforementioned points, let me talk about those corporate leaders who are remarkably the most socially intelligent ones:


  1. Tim Cook – CEO, Apple: With due respect to the legend, the fact is that working with Steve Jobs was never easy – ask Steve Wozniak, Gil Amelio or John Sculley! And that’s why to partner him, complement him and eventually succeed him isn’t a small feat. Tim Cook did so with his sheer social intelligence.


He complemented boisterous and maverickSteve with his aplomb and stability. As Saeed Magahsooloo, one of his professors from Auburn University said “I hardly ever saw him asking questions. He sat quietly and studied. He is focused and listens attentively to what those around him are saying”.


Philip W. Schiller, the person at the helm of marketing at Apple, turned the sales around during his 14 year tenure. And he could do it simply because Cook allowed him to do so. And that matters a lot*. As Cook said in an interview with BusinessweekWe want diversity of style. We want people to be themselves”.


Add to it ‘fierce loyalty’. He was so upset with Steve’s illness that one afternoonhe had his own blood tested and he researched to finally learn that it is possible to transfer a portion of a living person’s liver to someone in need of a transplant. He offered it to Steve repeatedly, only to be vehemently rejected.


And then there was the admission of being a gay. As he says, his decision to speak up was inspired by a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”.


  1. Ajit Jain, President – BerkshireHathaway Insurance:When ‘TheWarren Buffet’ says statements like “If Munger (Charlie), I, and Ajit are ever in a sinking boat and you can only save one of us, swim to Ajit” or “The most valuable person at Berkshire is Ajit Jainand well he has a brother in India. I keep trying to bring him over. I wrote to Ajit’s parents and said if you have got another one over there, send him to me. I need him” then the person must be an immensely talented one.


However, when you hear Ajit Jain, one of the prominent names to be successor of Buffet,talking about Buffet with genuine warmth or about another contestants’ strengths with genuine appreciation then you know that here is a man who knows how to build longtime authentic associations with social intelligence.


  1. Natarajan Chandrasekaran – Chairman, Tata Sons:After less than three months of the controversial removal of Cyrus Mistry,Chandrasekaran got appointed as Chairman of Tata Sons. TCS was his first employer, and becoming its CEO in 2009 and eventually heading the most respected group of India at the age of 54 has been possible because of his ability to win all-round trust. He has never attended any b-school nor reads much management literature.


He learnt about leadership through the self-awareness** he gained duringhis work that took him to different places for different projects.On the other hand, heonce even flew back from the US to attend to his ailing dog Ray. Well! Probably the greatest example of his Social intelligence is the fact that when he became Tata Sons’ Chairman, N R Narayana Murthy, co-founder of competing company Infosys, said “He is all the time learning with people, he is all the time sharing with people. I have no doubt the entire industry will be celebrating today”.Well! Social intelligence at its best!


*In a study of 62 CEOs from ‘Fortune-500 & leading companies’, researchers Barsade& Ward found that lesser their ‘personality-clashes, conflicts and friction’ with their top management teams, better the company’s business results.


**A study of CEOs of health services companies by Eric Harter found that self-awareness of leadership abilities was greatest for CEOs of the best-performing companies and poorest for CEOs of the worst performers.


Dr. Sandeep Atre (

Founder-Director, Socialigence (

Also the author of books “Understanding Emotions Logically” and “Observing Nonverbal Behavior”