His IQ was off the charts with a fabulous track record and a better knowledge of fundraising than anyone I knew. His brain was a delight to encounter. He was my Director of Development for a brief time in the nonprofit organization I ran three decades ago. Brief, because as it turned out, he was also obnoxious. To my surprise and dismay, complaints started coming in on day three of his employment:

  • “Ray hurt my feelings.”
  • “Ray told me that if I didn’t shape up, my job was in trouble.”
  • “Ray said that he’d never seen worse work.”

Whoa. I decided I’d better talk to Ray. When I called him to my office, Ray showed up immediately, practically saluting.

“What’s going on?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?” he answered, looking puzzled.

“I’m concerned because there seems to be a growing perception you are a little challenging to deal with—and you’ve only been here three days. Can you help me understand where that opinion is coming from?”

His eyes popped, his body went rigid and then, his emotions exploded. “What do you mean, difficult? I’ve already done XYZ, called QRS, and started to make a dent in the mess I inherited!”

“I’m not talking about the quality of your work, Ray. I’m talking about the quality of your relationship-building skills. And, I’m curious as to why my comment stirred up such a strong reaction.”

“Well, you’d react strongly, too, if someone accused you of…”

He blamed everyone else. They were incompetent, impossible to work with, and unreasonable. It went downhill from there.

Nothing in the interview process or reference checks hinted he was a social grenade waiting for the pin to be plucked. And I’m a good interviewer! He came across as calm, cool, collected, and, above all competent. He was also personable. This guy had problems but possessed incredible skill concealing them in the interview.

I was puzzled by his great references. How can someone be successful in the workplace with zero self-awareness, zero self-management, zero empathy, and zero relationship-building skills–what I would call zero Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

Now, I have a good idea how. Organizations allow superb technical competencies to outweigh and overrule the equally (if not more) critical need for the basics of enabling successful human interactions. With more than a little embarrassment, I have to admit that there were a few occasions when I was a member of that group. In this case, I failed to validate whether the job candidate had good relationship skills because he was so skilled at raising money. I assumed he was good at building and maintaining relationships. In fact, I was right when about his ability to relate to donors or potential donors. But with his peers and direct reports? Abominable.

Too often, managers keep an employee on the team in spite of how obnoxious and disrespectful he/she is–because the organization needs the individual’s skills and abilities. They rationalize that such a person would be difficult, even impossible, to replace. Nonsense! No one is irreplaceable (including thee and me) and the cost to the organization of not replacing them is immeasurable.

There are times organizations have to choose between two terrible candidates and hire the least terrible. When does this happen? In my case, it happened when there were two openings on the graveyard shift in a residential facility caring for abused children where I was the CEO. In that situation, if you don’t hire someone, you risk losing your license to care for any children–and go out of business! If you hire the wrong person, you risk damage, injury or even death to those who have been entrusted to your care.

Caught between a rock and a hard place? More like wedged between a ten-ton boulder and tons of solid concrete. Truly a decision that even Solomon would have had trouble making. (To be clear, I am not defending the practice of hiring the better of two terrible job candidates; I am just explaining why it happens in some circumstances.)

Development Directors, however, do not hold the lives of children in their hands. In Ray’s case, I helped him leave and quickly. He had no concern about the impact of his behavior on others. While his IQ may have been off the charts, his EQ was too, but in the opposite direction!

There’s an important distinction to consider in Ray’s case. Another way to look at him is that he may have understood perfectly his impact on his peers but just didn’t care. All he cared about was raising money–a good thing for a nonprofit! However, in the process, he verbally trampled on anyone he didn’t see as important to his bottom line or was in his way. (The term “Machiavellian” comes to mind but that’s another post.)

Since dealing with Ray, I’ve gained a great deal of insight into how to ‘suss’ out EQ or in this case, what might be called selective EQ. (The latter is far more difficult to detect.) I became much more focused on relationship skills when interviewing prospective hires– and in my conversation with references. I also utilized the best assessments available to add objectivity to the interview/hiring process. I just wish I’d figured this out decades ago!

We need to look hard at which employees we retain because of their intellect and talents while their emotional deficits wreak havoc for anyone who has to encounter them. We need also to improve our skills of hiring, coaching and, when necessary, firing for EQ as much as we might for IQ and proficiency.

What do you think is more important: IQ or EQ? And are there candidates with Zero EQ? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!