You Haven’t Heard of Behavioral Intelligence, But Chances Are Your Organization Desperately Needs It

An Unexpected Discovery

My doctoral research was focused on learning how managers were able to consistently produce effective outcomes while surrounded by continual disruption and upheaval. Once I started field interviews, I was quickly surprised to find that, for the most effective managers, the key determinant was not skill, training or experience: it was the degree of “psychological safety” they were able to establish within their teams.

The term “psychological safety”, may be new to many managers, but it is increasingly becoming seen as a critical factor in organizational success. The term, first coined by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, refers to “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

During my my field research, I was constantly struck by how central psychological safety was to overall organizational effectiveness, particularly in the case of organizations that regularly have to navigate high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

However, as important as this knowledge was, it helped me to realize an even greater discovery: the critical role of psychological safety in organizational effectiveness helped me to see that, in our current age, awareness of invisible flows of interpersonal behavioral dynamics, was one of the — if not THE — greatest factor in organizational resilience and success.

Once I realized this, I felt an insatiable hunger to unconver everything I could about this largely unexamined, but strategically-critical, aspect of organizational life I am now referring to as “behavioral intelligence” (BQ). While I am learning more every day, I am currently defining BQ as

an organization’s overall awareness of the influence and impact of its internal behavioral dynamics.

A Step Beyond Emotional Intelligence

To better understand the idea of BQ, it is important to, first, understand the concept of “Emotional intelligence” (EQ). EQ — popularized in countless blog postings and, most noteably, in the the writings of psychologist Daniel Goleman — refers to an individual’s understanding of their emotions and how those emotions influence their actions.

While there are clear similarities, the concept of BQ goes far beyond the idea of EQ.

While EQ focuses on a simple awareness of one’s own emotional experience, BQ speaks to a much broader and dynamic awareness of the complex network of behavioral “chain reactions” that — much like wifi signals — infuse and influence all human interactions that take place as organizational members interact for the purpose of getting the job done.

This means that — to borrow a different tech-related analogy — if EQ provides us with a slow-motion selfie, BQ plugs us into realtime, live streaming video captured in 360 degrees.

A Systems Orientation

The idea of BQ uses a much wider lens than EQ in capturing the dynamic impact and influence of collective behavioral patterns. Whereas EQ focuses more on the individual’s experience and capacities, BQ borrows from the discipline of social psychology focuses on the systemic impact of ongoing patterns of behavior.

Because of its systems orientation, discussions about impact and influence of BQ can quickly jump over traditional silos and departmental boundaries to encompass system-wide cultural patterns and organizational outcomes.

An Emerging Field of Inquiry

While I have always been drawn to understand more about how human emotions and vulnerability play out in formalized settings (like work, school, church, etc.), my identification of this thing I am now calling “Behavioral Intelligence” is recent, coming directly out of the field research I conducted as part of my Ph.D.

As a result, this largely-undiscussed and univestigated aspect of organizational life is very much a work in progress. For this reason, I will continue look for relevant established research that can help to expand my current, very limited understanding. To that end, I am also keen to learn from and help others whose whose real-world organizational experiences further expands this awareness and how it can be applied to enhance organizational growth, resilience, and effectiveness.

I look forward to sharing those experiences with you and hope, fellow learners, that you will share yours with me.

David Holzmer, Ph.D.

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Management Heretic & Innovator | Helping smart companies create places people love to work.

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