Thinking with feeling: social intelligence and leadership

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The purpose of this thesis is to examine the dynamics of social intelligence in the practice of political leadership. It offers a mode of analysis that has not been attempted before in Australian prime ministerial studies, to further our understanding of contemporary politics. The intention of this thesis is both normative and empirical. That is, it makes a normative case for the importance of social intelligence in Australia’s political leaders, which is based on and combined with an empirical study that explores social intelligence in the leader’s actions and outcomes. The inspiration to attempt a framework to analyse the social intelligence of seven of Australia’s prime ministers was derived from Thorndike’s focus (Thorndike, 1920). Thorndike (1920) defined social intelligence as: “[t]he ability to understand and manage people and ......act wisely in human relations” (Thorndike, E 1920, p.220). Thorndike also suggested that studying behaviours in a context provided better scope for an analysis of such skills. Despite a significant passage of time Higgs and Dulewicz (2016) wrote that the components that Thorndike “included in his ‘social intelligence’ bear an uncanny resemblance to current thinking on EI” (Higgs and Dulewicz, 2016, p.15). In the absence of a methodology or study found through the literature review that could be replicated, variables that were identified as relevant skills in the Australian leadership setting were first extracted (Karpin (1995); IBSA (2011). These abilities aligned to the umbrella framework of analysis of exploring social intelligence in context through the conduct and deeds of Australia’s prime ministers. Second, a study undertaken in Canada identified criteria specific to the political context of Prime Ministerial tenures, designating seven aspects as indicative of the measurement of successful governance by Prime Ministers (Hillmer and Azzi, 2011). Despite the geographical distance, it can be argued that these six traits are equally applicable in the Australian political setting given that Australia and Canada have comparable governance systems (Kaiser, 2008). The variables provided by the Hillmer and Azzi (2011) study are: stable wielding of power; well defined and communicated goals; skillful cabinet and party management; capacity to unify rather than create dissent; a firm record of accomplishments; enhanced country after their term. ‘Organised emotional care’ (Lopez, 2006) was used as a reference point for internal leadership dimensions and how the available data elucidates the working environments created and espoused by the leaders. The thesis also includes an exploration of the Prime Minister’s life experiences and what the data might elicit in terms of different or shared experiences amongst them or alternately specific life occurrences within individual prime minister’s lives that could be explored for its impact. A qualitative research analysis has been applied using numerous primary and secondary sources of data such as social media, media more generally, speeches, biographies, interviews, and records from archives. To achieve balance in the face of any latent or implicit political bias, multiple data sources are quoted or credited. The findings indicate that a lack of social intelligence was a factor in ending each of the prime ministerships irrespective of whether overall the prime ministers were deficient or exceptional in their practice of social intelligence.
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