Qualities of a superlative leader – Intelligence, part 3

12 traits of intelligenceI’m summing up today with a caveat. The general study and analysis of the traits of intelligence is ongoing. Many minds greater than mine have explored this subject.  I do not want to give an impression that this in an exhaustive list. I have narrowed the list to those traits of intelligence that are most often observed in a superlative leader. I have only narrowly explored the application of those traits to the act and process of leadership. This is an exploration of qualities of a superlative leader. Superlative leadership is another discussion.

In the previous two posts I discuss 8 traits of intelligence, 4 in each. If you are just joining the series, you can read them here and here. Today I discuss the final four.

9. Ability to reason. I thought twice before including this one because it can seem redundant.  The ability to reason is the capacity to analyze, break things down into component parts, see their relationship to each other, and formulate a reasonable response using the same principles of logic. Abraham Lincoln said that “Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.” No one is advocating a Spock-like absence of emotion. I am, however, advocating the elevation of reason and logic over emotion. I can say with conviction that every time I let emotion override logic when it came to my business and employees, it came back to bite me in the butt. The ability to reason is the ability to think, argue, and discuss persuasively, key and critical skills for an effective leader. If you want to get things done, and if you want to get them done with means and methods other than by force, the ability to reason is absolutely cause and effectessential. One critical element of this trait is to be able to discern between cause and effect. Shallow minds and lazy thinkers either do not often see the correlation or misread the connection. Intelligent people sometimes get it wrong, too, but they quickly learn (see #4). Leaders who are able to move from a command and control stance to a train and coordinate stance have to know when to address the effect and when to address the cause. Logical minds can see what happened or what is happening and know what to do next. (Shameless commercial interruption here – I deal with this in greater detail in my book The 3 Essential Skills of an Effective Leader.)

10. Ability to plan. Intelligence is not a mere exercise in fantasy. Superlative leaders do not merely surmise and dream, they make plans rooted in fiction. They do not create task lists or assign and schedule events as mere exercise nor unrealistically. They make plans and they make, well, intelligent ones. They weigh all the factors, address all the options, weigh the demands, and plan accordingly. Sadly, the ability is less common than it should be. Effective planning demands logical thinking (see #9 above),  a listening ear that can “hear” what’s what, and the capacity to prioritize and schedule tasks chronologically.

11. Ability to understand complex ideas and complicated situations. Understanding is an intuitive capacity. Life is not simple. Nuances abound. Layers of meaning and motivation typify just about everyone and nearly everywhere. Few things are as simple and straightforward as they appear. Intelligent people are neither naïve nor simple-minded. Intelligent people “get it.” They cut through the crap, blow away the fog, and peel back the layers. And they can make sense of it all without really having to think about it.

12. Capacity to see parts and the sum of parts. The final trait of intelligence is one that indicates ones elevated viewpoint and logical bent. An intelligent person can take things apart and put them together. S/he can reason from the minor to the major, from the piece to the whole, from the smaller to the larger and the other way around. Sir Isaac Newton did just that when he saw an apple fall. From that one event came a more comprehensive understanding of physics. Eventually an apples led to the moon. Leaders, who are the focus of this study, know how to leverage small encounters to result in much larger consequences. They know how individuals work and think and they know how those same individuals will work and think when they are placed together.

Leaders become leaders for lots of reasons. Sometimes the job is thrust upon them but no one stays long in the role without intelligence. They either have the smarts or they don’t.

Coming next on Monday, Quality #2 – Experience

Qualities of a superlative leader – Intelligence, part 1

franklinHe was the tenth son of a Boston soap maker. His father intended for his son to enter the ministry but he had money enough for only one year of schooling when the profession required many. So he apprenticed the young man to his brother, James, a printer. The apprenticeship did not go all that well so after years of tedious work and regular beatings from James, at the tender age of 17, young Ben ran away to Philadelphia. Finding work there as an apprentice printer, he so distinguished himself that he began to make his mark in the city.

Using borrowed money he set himself up in business, winning contracts for government printing, and prosperity soon followed. After marrying, he and his wife expanded their business by opening a general goods store, a book store, and by expanding the print shop. In 1729, at the age of 26, he bought the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper. In 1733, Poor Richard’s Almanac debuted. The colonies did not lack for almanacs but filled with aphorisms and lively writing, Poor Richard’s soon climbed to the top of the heap.

In the 1730’s and 1740’s Franklin’s influence extended throughout the city. He helped launch projects to pave, clean and light the streets, began a lending library, started a fire insurance company, and invented the Franklin stove. In 1749, he retired from business to focus on science and inventing. He is the man who gave us the lightning rod, swim fins, and bifocal eyeglasses.

By the 1750’s he would become more deeply engaged in politics, but did not embrace the idea of independence until 1765. Years earlier he had put together a proposal for united colonies as a way to relate to England but now began actively pushing for separation from the crown. Serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, Franklin served as one of five on the committee to draft a declaration of independence.

His powers of persuasion, his skills of diplomacy, his gifts of creativity and inventiveness, his commitment to hard work and effectiveness places Benjamin Franklin among the pantheon of great Americans, great businessmen, and superlative leaders.

Biographers have revealed that Franklin was not an educated man, but he was, nonetheless, endowed with high intelligence. So, right off I want to disconnect advanced education from this quality. It is mostly true that people with advanced education are intelligent (I’m still not all that sure about some I’ve known). But it is NOT TRUE that if one does not have an advanced formal education one then can be deemed to be unintelligent. Education is one thing. Intelligence is another.

Intelligence as a word and as a quality is not simply defined. It is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do. Savvy might be a synonym in our application here.

I have compiled a list of a dozen traits that indicate intelligence. I will address four of them today, the others on Monday. Here they are in no particular order:

    1. Self- awareness. Dirty Harry’s catchphrase in Magnum Force was “a man’s got to know his limitations.” That’s true. And he’s got to know his strengths, too. Knowing what you’re good at …and what you’re not… means you are smart enough to know what you should tackle and where and when you need help
      • Smart people know who they are and have come to a place of being comfortable with themselves. They have identified their strengths and their weaknesses, then have acknowledged the former and accepted the latter.
      • Smart people know what they are and are unapologetic about their responsibilities. They have accepted the mantle of leadership and inserted themselves into their role with no need to flaunt it.
      • Smart people understand the power of their actions and their words, realize how it impacts the attitudes and actions of others, and behave accordingly.
      • Self-aware people know that they can neither relate well to everyone nor readily win them over. So they gather around them people who can extend their reach because they know precisely how far their reach, well, reaches.
    2. Other-awareness. Intelligent people are observant people. They have to be to be able see opportunities and avoid threats. Franklin saw an opportunity when he created the fire insurance industry, the profits that could be made in selling Poor Richard’s Almanac, and the ability to provide better vision for the impaired when he invented bifocals. But even more revealing is the skill with which he maneuvered through the turbulent conflicts and stormy personalities in the Second Continental Congress to get to an approved declaration of independence. His powers of other-awareness showed him how to solve the objections of the New York delegation while harnessing the energy and impulsiveness of the Massachusetts representatives.
    3. Self-Restraint. Just because one can doesn’t imply that one should. There is peril here because leaders have tremendous latitude. Followers typically give them a wide path to walk in. Intelligent people know when and how to control emotions, actions, and words. They play their role well, not to deceive or mislead, but to maximize their influence so that the right things get done. General Robert E. Lee said that “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Smart people know the difference between a wildfire and a controlled burn. They understand the implications of unrestrained behavior in the board room or on the shop floor. Steven Covey wrote that “The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.” Proactive people are people of deliberation, purpose, and intent. They are people of restraint.
    4. Capacity to learn, to learn quickly, to learn from experience. I almost left this trait out, it seems so obvious. But I encounter the opposite so often I decided it warranted inclusion here. The day I graduated from college, one of my professors offered a bit of wise insight when she said, “You have your degree. Now, you’re going to get an education.” She was correct. One student, we’ll call him Carl, who had returned to graduate school later in life, voiced his frustration over many of the other students in the program. He had a decade or so of experience. They did not. They had learned from books almost exclusively. He had the advantage of both classroom and life. They thought they knew just about everything. He understood there was so much more to learn. Indeed, every day there is more to learn. Smart people accept it, embrace it, and look forward to it. Not so smart people have learned just about all they are going to. But there is more. Intelligent people accept the lessons of life. They accept reality as it is, not believe that it is what they think it should be. They never let ideology trump reality. Never. One is fantasy. The other is honesty.

There are 8 more traits but I’ve taken enough of your time. See you on  Monday.