Smart and Social: The Recipe for Good Leadership

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Businesses looking for their next leaders should hire employees who are both extremely smart and team players, new research suggests.

Workers who reach the highest rungs on the corporate ladder are smart and social, not one or the other, according to a study published recently in the journal Review of Economics and Statistics.

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For the study, Weinberger analyzed surveys and tests that followed high school students into the job market. The surveys, which were first given in 1979, followed up with the students over the next 20 years, to see where they ended up in their careers. The data included surveys on leadership and tests on math skills.

In the first part of the analysis, Weinberger looked at students' math scores during high school and how socially engaged they were — for instance, whether they were involved in extracurricular activities or took on leadership roles. Then, to provide an alternative measure of skills, she looked at the skills required in people's jobs. Some of these were management positions that required both intelligence and social interaction, while others required one or another type of skill, such as cognitive ability for number-crunching or strong social skills for sales and marketing positions.

"Using these two different measures of skills, I see exactly the same patterns," Weinberger said. "The people who are both smart and socially adept earn more in today's workforce than similarly endowed workers in 1980."

Weinberger also discovered that employees today who possess one skill or the other are doing about as well as those in the past. She said that, in 1980, there was no additional benefit to having both skills, as there is today.

"Even so, both those who are pretty good at math but not very social and those with below-average book smarts who are really good with people are doing fine," Weinberger said. "At the same time, students who are neither socially nor academically engaged in school are doing even worse than we realized."

Weinberger believes her findings could have ramifications for creating effective education policies. She said policymakers should determine whether people can be educated differently to give them stronger and more balanced bundles of skills as they go into the job market.

"Just making students sit down and learn math and try to get their test scores up isn't enough," Weinberger said. "Giving up recess to focus on math skills might not be the best investment in our future workforce."


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