A recent study at Bell Laboratories found that the most valued and
productive engineers on product teams were not those with the highest IQs, the
best academic credentials, or the top scores in achievement tests. Instead, the
stars were those whose congeniality put them at the heart of the communications
network. When these likable engineers hit a snag and e-mailed for help, they got
an answer almost instantly.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman cites this example to help explain what he calls "emotional intelligence." The old-fashioned term would be "character." What Goleman has in mind here are not office politicians or manipulators but genuine people whose self-control and maturity make them the catalyst for building the rapport and cooperation that are so essential to successful teams.
Though many of us might describe Goleman's portrait of today's enlightened man or woman as someone who simply has "good common sense," his ideas have prompted a Time cover story and made his book, Emotional Intelligence (Bantam), a best seller. All of which tells me that there are millions of us whose value systems are so confused and distorted that we no longer recognize or appreciate the old-fashioned virtues.
Goleman isn't the only one who has touched a responsive chord with the American public. Former Education Secretary William Bennett has built a new career as a secular apologist for the underlying virtues that most Americans would endorse as the foundation for good character. Similarly, General Colin Powell's enormously popular autobiography, An American Journey, is appealing not so much because of his meteoric rise from immigrant's son to the military's highest post but because of the honest, unassuming way he pursued his career. That sincere, "true-to-yourself" character came through once again when he declined to pursue the presidency, despite a groundswell of popular support.
It's gratifying to see Americans embrace these new discussions of what it means to be a well-functioning individual. In the greedy, gaudy '80s, the models held up to us were the Donald Trumps, people whose street smarts enabled them to make a quick killing in real estate or finance. Now, in the mid '90s, Americans are showing new appreciation for the Cal Ripkens of the world--people who come to work every day, do the very best job they can, and treat others with decency. People with character.