I’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.
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 essential. 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