At a recent staff meeting, during a discussion of the theory of multiple intelligences, George Lucas suggested that the people who do best in the world are those with emotional intelligence: people who can get others to do what they want -- and feel good doing it.
Once you think about this, the idea seems undeniable, an extension into real life of the "Plays well with others" box on the kindergarten report card. But the notion -- that a check mark in this box may, in the long run, matter at least as much as an A in algebra or a B+ in biology -- is provocative. I will admit, with a certain embarrassment, that I watch The Apprentice, Donald Trump's exercise in self-inflation. The show offers lessons in group dynamics and office politics, subjects of a column I wrote for many years. What I have noticed, in the course of three seasons, is that the people who win this marathon job interview are not those who are obviously the smartest, the most ambitious, or the slyest. They are the ones with a highly developed awareness of those they are working with.
Unlike mathematical skill, the ability to sense the many shadings of human interaction is something teachers have to assess without the help (or hindrance) of testing. Sometimes exercising this capacity can take exceptional patience, because emotional intelligence may manifest itself in annoying ways; the class clown, for instance, might have a gift for understanding others (his "audience") and a desire to lift people's spirits that can prove invaluable in later life (see "Clowning Around," September 2005). A kid who talks a lot in class, though sometimes disruptive, may be a natural communicator.
Obviously, we shouldn't undervalue the kinds of intelligence that do show up on tests. The technology revolution of the 1990s was driven largely by brilliant, innovative men and women who were often socially inept. Yet even in high tech, those who led the companies that thrived usually had a well-honed talent for motivating these loner geniuses.
How does one measure emotional intelligence? A teacher's natural instincts are indispensable, of course. After all, good teachers are intelligent in this way themselves. But the best test of all may be project-based learning, which requires coordination, teamwork, and effective social interaction for an effective outcome. Leaders will emerge naturally, sometimes as a happy surprise to their teachers. And everyone on a project will see that "Works well with others" is the key to many of life's sweetest successes.