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American Association for Physician Leadership
American Association for Physician Leadership

The Coach’s Corner: Why IQ Isn’t Enough

Robert Hicks, PhD

May 8, 2023

Physician Leadership Journal

Volume 10, Issue 3, Pages 54-55



Physicians, as a whole, are above average in IQ compared to the rest of the population. Unfortunately, IQ does not necessarily predict success in life or even on the job.

The medical field is full of smart people, at least in the academic sense. Scholastic aptitude, or “general intelligence,” is the single best predictor of success in the classroom. Physicians, as a whole, are above average in IQ compared to the rest of the population.

Unfortunately, while a predictor of academic success, IQ does not necessarily predict success in life or even on the job. Several large-scale studies have failed to find evidence that IQ guarantees life satisfaction or job success because IQ, measured by intelligence tests, fails to capture real-world requirements.(1) One of those requirements is the ability to navigate the political environment inherent in organizations, both large and small.

Organizations, at heart, are social networks. Of course, strategy, structure, and systems play a part, but it is people who make them work, and where there are people, there are politics. Organizational politics tend to eclipse formal organizational roles and usurp organizational processes.

Most people think organizational politics are harmful and describe them with words like “toxic,” “frustrating,” and “unnecessary,” and sometimes they are. Indeed, our society has viewed politics negatively, but this is an incomplete and one-sided understanding of politics and how they work in organizations. If you believe politics are toxic and unnecessary, you have a “head-in-the-sand” perspective that needs updating.

Organizations accomplish a great deal through informal channels. Their unofficial and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts evolve as people position themselves, their interests, and their priorities to achieve personal, professional, and organizational goals.

As human beings, we are social creatures whose use of relationships, informal influence, and power is part of how we engage with one another. If you don’t think you are political, you may be surprised to learn that when you have shared your ideas with decision-makers before a meeting so they are not surprised, or had a “chat” with someone you think can help you in some way, you are engaging in politics. When done for the good of the team, division, or department, political activities strengthen support, expand influence, and persuade others, so things get done.

It is critical to distinguish between politics used for selfish and self-aggrandizing purposes and political behavior with constructive and altruistic motivation. In his acclaimed article “The Two Faces of Power,” David McClelland differentiates between “personalized” and “socialized” power.(2) Personalized power is the reason politics get a bad name. People whose political activity is personalized display it purely to bolster their ego, achieve power and control, and fulfill their desires at the expense of others or the organization.

For example, if a person were to spread a false rumor about the lack of scientific evidence behind a colleague’s project to promote theirs instead, that would be an example of personalized power. People who employ personalized power can act like the proverbial “snake in the grass” or the “king of the jungle.” Either way, their actions are immature and destructive to those around them and the organization.

On the other hand, socialized power is an ethical and constructive use of political savvy to advance the interests of others or the organization. This does not mean self-gain is absent, but it is not the driving force.

To be sure, we all operate out of self-interest; however, the maturity that accompanies socialized power creates a desire to influence for other-serving and prosocial ends, as opposed to self-serving and even antisocial ends. People whose political behavior is based on socialized power manage their behavior and are careful about how they influence others. They use their political skills for institutional purposes, and to create productive work environments beneficial to others. Interestingly, people who use socialized power are generally perceived as apolitical. In short, given that politics are inescapable, socialized power is necessary and valuable.

Socialized power is operationalized through political savvy, also known as political intelligence (PQ). How is PQ different than IQ or EQ? As discussed above, IQ is how “smart” a person is, how quickly they learn, handle cognitive complexity, and solve abstract problems. EQ is how well they control and express emotions. It is a measure of judicious and emphatic management of interpersonal relationships.

IQ and EQ influence a physician in the world of work, but for non-clinical success in the workplace, PQ is arguably the most critical intelligence to have and develop.

As Dale Carnegie once observed, PQ depends more on EQ than IQ because, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but emotions.” Political savvy is based on leveraging EQ to “read the room,” understand the social dynamics, and bring people along to your way of thinking while still considering what is important to them; it is a special kind of social awareness.

But PQ goes beyond EQ; it is a skill set that must be learned through intentionality, understanding, and practice. It is a matter of investing in relationships, being strategic about supporters and sponsors, and finding ways to increase your influence to advance the legitimate interests of yourself, your team, and your organization. The more skilled you become, the more politically savvy you are, and the higher your PQ is.

Raising Your PQ

PQ is not inherent, although some people develop it more quickly than others because they have a knack for it. Regardless of whether it is natural to you, there are things to remember that can raise your PQ and make you more politically savvy.

  1. Rethink your attitude toward politics. Gravity exists whether you acknowledge it, and so does politics. If you dislike all thoughts of being politically savvy and simply want to get on with your job, you are ignoring reality. To develop PQ, you must first accept that navigating the political environment is natural, necessary, and productive when motivated by socialized power.

  2. Remember, it all starts with relationships. Politically savvy people realize that everything gets done through relationships, and the No. 1 rule is to build your relationships before you need them. Building relationships for political purposes is an intentional process. It means investing time in making connections and building links with those in a position to help you, hinder you, and speak for you so that they become your allies. This is your network of influencers, and those influencers are not always in positions of formal authority.

  3. Think before you speak or act. People with political savvy have impulse control and choose their organizational battles wisely. Furthermore, they size up situations before acting and think about what to say before speaking. Sometimes you need to consider whether to voice a thought or a feeling at all because timing is everything. If you are going to speak, “learn to not only say the right thing at the right time, but also leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment” (Anonymous).

  4. Practice influence. Politically skilled individuals are cognitively and behaviorally agile and are capable of appropriately adapting and calibrating their behavior to each situation while using persuasion to achieve their goals. This skill depends on a person’s EQ to be responsive to the needs, motives, and experiences of others, to establish rapport with those they are attempting to influence, and demonstrate sound judgment as to communication style. Politically savvy people are successful in the long term because they are not manipulative in the personalized power sense of the word. They are cooperative in pursuing win-win outcomes, even as they pursue their own agenda, and their actions are aligned with the mission of their team or organization.


Practicing politics on your terms, with a clear-eyed view of how to be effective without selling your soul or sacrificing your values, will benefit not only you but also those colleagues and stakeholders who are counting on you. We all play some form of politics, and raising our PQ and developing political savvy are critical to long-term career success. Coaching others to understand this reality is your responsibility as a leader — but first, you must believe it. One thing is undoubtedly true, “If you don’t do politics, politics will do you.”(3)


  1. Butler HA. Why Do Smart People Do Foolish Things? Scientific American. October 3, 2017.

  2. McClelland DC. The Two Faces of Power. Journal of International Affairs. 1970;24(1):29–47

  3. Postma N. If You Don’t Do Politics, Politics Will Do You. Los Angeles, CA: KR Publishing;2020.

Robert Hicks, PhD

Robert Hicks is a licensed psychologist, a clinical professor of organizational behavior, and founding director of the Executive Coaching Program at the University of Texas at Dallas. He also is a faculty associate at UT Southwestern Medical Center and the author of Coaching as a Leadership Style: The Art and Science of Coaching Conversations for Healthcare Professionals (2014) and The Process of Highly Effective Coaching: An Evidence-based Framework (2017).

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