Social intelligence represents the ability of individuals to take part in four fundamental cognitive and behavioral processes, namely social awareness, social acumen, response selection and response enactment. According to Stephen J. Zaccaro, the American psychologist, competencies within the first two processes can be described as social perceptiveness, while competencies within the last two processes represent behavioral flexibility. In Multiple Intelligences and Leadership (2002), Zaccaro underlines the important role that social intelligence plays in organizational leadership. Social intelligence is seen as one of many skills and competencies that successful leaders must have in order to produce effective solutions to organizational problems.
Social perceptiveness has two, equally important, components. Social awareness demonstrates the ability to read social signs that are relevant to organizational problem solving. Leaders cannot demonstrate socially intelligent behavior unless they are able to perceive important social contingencies. However, successful leaders must also be capable of effective interpretation of the perceived information. This ability is known as social acumen and refers to understanding social dynamics in its relation to organizational problem solving.
Social awareness and social acumen refer to different groups of competencies. Some individuals may be good at perceiving social phenomena but may not be able to analyze and interpret them effectively. Others may easily comprehend social dynamics and its effect on the organization while having low sensitivity to social changes. Both social reasoning and relational competencies are incorporated in the model of socially intelligent behavior. Relational competencies and their behavioral manifestations can be effectively applied only when the specific requirements of each situation are taken into consideration. In order to demonstrate effective leadership one must possess not only relational competencies, but social reasoning abilities as well. An otherwise intellectually gifted individual may fail as a leader due to insufficient competencies in perceiving hazardous social situations.
Successful leadership depends on the ability to adequately understand, evaluate and respond to social demands, needs and requirements. Relational competencies including situational responsiveness, social diversity management and social persuasiveness are also crucial to effective leadership.
Social perceptiveness represents the capacity to apprehend the needs and demands of organized structures like societies. Successful leaders extend their social perceptiveness beyond individuals to address the relations among organization members and units or even relations with other organizations. Effective leadership also demands recognition of the general goals of organizations and seeking out opportunities that can advance those goals. Examples of such social insightfulness may include successful perception of new regulations of business environment or changes in consumer behavior as well as the way organizations can exploit these changes to their best interest.
There are three main areas that social perception abilities focus on. First, gathering and analyzing information regarding events that may represent potential hazards to organizational progress. Second, understanding variations of personnel moods and performance and the way these phenomena may affect approved action plans. Third, seeking out opportunities in the social environment that can boost organizational growth.
Acquisition and interpretation of social information is what all three areas have in common. Leaders gather information regarding potential threats, obstacles before planned solutions of problems and opportunities for expansion. They use acquired data as a base for analysis and further actions for solving organizational problems.
Application of cognitive frames to social information also enhances successful social perception. Well organized structures of social knowledge are typical for leaders with high social intelligence. Such leaders tend to store information about social events that may influence the organization in their knowledge structures. Based on that information leaders then proceed to develop mechanisms for problem-solving. Detailed cognitive models of social dynamics in organizations can enhance the application of social reasoning skills. By using such elaborate mental models leaders are able not only to identify similarities among social elements, but also to differentiate among similar elements. This ability allows leaders to create a more fine-tuned approach to organizational dynamics and develop more effective techniques for social problem-solving.
Four basic processes are engaged in the act of solving complex problems. First, leaders have to clearly identify the problem by building of a model of its characteristics. Cognitive abilities used in this process may include verbal and written comprehension, memory skills, and inductive and deductive reasoning. The second process includes defining various solution alternatives by using convergent thinking, divergent thinking or logical reasoning skills. The actual realization of the planned solution is the third process. Forth is the assessment of results from the chosen solution.