Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members


Two decades back, at the turn of the millennium, “Emotional Intelligence” overtook “Intelligence Quotient” as a core requisite for extraordinary leaders. That’s not saying IQ is no longer important for successful leadership but highlighting that the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions and the competence to influence the emotions of others is critical for leaders who want to drive an expansive team to achieve the organizational objectives.

According to Harvard Business School Online, EQ accounts for about 90% of what sets high performers apart  from others belonging to the same background, and with similar knowledge and skills. The concept of Emotional Intelligence or EQ was popularized by the noted psychologist Daniel Goleman in the late 90’s. Goleman advocated that EQ helps business leaders to coach teams successfully, manage stress, offer constructive feedback, collaborate and influence their teams so as to attain the common goals of the company.

In the past month, we saw two shining examples of Emotional Intelligence from two extraordinary business leaders – Apple’s Tim Cook and SpaceX’s Elon Musk. Both the leaders communicated via a social media platform and addressed significant business issues (albeit very different in nature) in very few words.

Projecting a $200 million crash as a success

On December 9, 2020, SpaceX’s Starship prototype landed with a fiery crash, costing the company about $200 million. Although the spaceship accomplished its altitude-test mission by successfully touching the height of 40,000 feet and registering the required data, all of which was relayed to SpaceX headquarters, it was a significant financial loss.

The explosion of the $200 million spaceship was also bound to disturb the focus and morale of the team and tarnish the image of a brand that aspires to set up a human colony in Mars. But two tweets from Elon Musk changed the story to that of an achievement worth celebrating.

Musk tweeted the precise reason for the explosion of the spaceship without even mentioning the explosion and congratulated the team for the accomplishment of the mission. In his second tweet – all of four words, he demonstrated his excitement and determination to start the next phase of the mission.

So simple and yet so effective that it is bound to inspire and boost the team to look forward and focus on what’s important; and at the same time shut the external noise of critics. That is what Emotional Intelligence of a leader can accomplish for a company.

Cook’s response to a vicious attack by Facebook

When the pandemic highlighted the privacy woes of consumers in this increasingly digital world, Apple made a significant announcement in June 2020. It said that the soon to be launched iOS 14 would need apps to secure the permission of the users before tracking their personal activities. The decision was much appreciated by privacy advocates but irked the app-owning companies.

The problem is app companies are afraid and rightly so, that consumers would not give free permission to apps to track their personal activities, and as a result, digital advertising platforms – the likes of Facebook will not be able to run targeted ads.

Facebook published two thousand words ads in three of US’s most popular newspapers, accusing Apple of being a threat to “free internet” and anti small business. In response, Apple didn’t issue a formal PR statement or run a retaliatory ad campaign but, its CEO Tim Cook retorted directly with a tweet (about forty-seven words long) from his personal Twitter account.

An accomplished communicator, Cook’s tweets are often perceived as boring as they are usually very ordinary – company announcements, Apple’s upcoming products and the likes. This tweet too sticks to his characteristics, but its effect is ruthless.

Without being argumentative or angry, Cook merely stated the facts, “Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before,” it just has to “ask for your permission first.” Cook didn’t dramatize his response, he merely established Apple’s belief, explained how it concerns users and simply clarified the actual change.

In just forty-seven words, he proved Facebook’s allegations (of an apocalyptic scenario) to be baseless and false, reaching out to the appropriate audience, without spending a penny. And that is exactly why business leaders should take a lesson from Cook while responding to a public attack or simply clarifying an issue.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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