The smartest people don’t get the top jobs; it is possible to be too smart. To be admired but disliked, isn’t that Sherlock Holmes’ problem?
‘I come from a generation where most directors of social services were at one time social workers. This is no longer the case’
Getting a top job isn’t about what you know. After all, most senior managers these days don’t know much about the diverse range of services they are responsible for. It not about who you know either, though networking is as important in the public sector as it is in the private sector.
They say these days it’s all about emotional intelligence. This is a bit misleading, as “emotional” implies feelings, empathy and having a heart, which sound more like the qualities required to be a social worker rather than those associated with senior management. Aren’t senior managers supposed to be logical, analytical, strategic and finance driven?
As a senior manager who started out as a social worker, I liked to think I had both the soft skills of social work and the hard skills of management. I come from a local government generation where most directors of social services were at one time social workers. This is no longer the case.
As services were merged and directors of social services found themselves responsible for housing, libraries, museums and even registrars (as I did), the prevailing thinking changed to reflect this reality. Now what was important was management skills, not specific professional backgrounds. In this context emotional intelligence began to be referred to as a quality top managers needed, in addition to the traditional management skills.
‘It’s not easy to improve your emotional intelligence, it requires constant effort and reflection’
Top managers still needed to be tough, determined and focused if budget cuts and service transformation were to be achieved, but with a less macho, less distant, less strident style if they were to form new partnerships.
Senior managers needed insight; they needed to see themselves as others saw them, recognise the effect their behaviour had on those they worked with. Armed with these insights they could adapt their behaviour to the audience and circumstances. This ability was termed emotional intelligence.
It’s not easy to improve your emotional intelligence, it requires constant effort and reflection. It’s why every Sherlock Holmes needs a Dr Watson.