21st Century Leadership Intelligence

Leadership intelligence relies on a person's ability to grow, learn, and master new ways of being a terrific leader,

ARTICLE | Mar 23, 2017

3 Ways to Boost That Intelligence

Graphic: blogs.psychcentral.com

Being an effective leader in today’s world seems to be much more complicated than in years past. In the previous century, for the vast majority of people, work was approached as a means for survival. The level of employee engagement did not dictate how long they stayed in the role. That’s different today, however. Individuals are always on the look out for more stimulating and rewarding work, as well as inspiring work environments where they can make a difference and grow themselves and their careers.

In a 2016 global workforce study, the Society for Human Resource Management found that highly qualified, motivated people chose to work for companies that build a strong, inspiring culture and also monitor and address both workplace culture and climate issues as they arise. If recruitment and retention of highly qualified, motivated people is one your organization‘s initiatives, leadership intelligence ought to be another. They go hand in hand.

Leaders now face unprecedented challenges. They must be able to lead three completely different generations of people, all with different operating contexts and outlooks on what work is all about, and must not only understand their customers but also understand their competitors who are also looking to hire talented workers. Leaders must have well-honed human awareness acumen and call on it moment-by-moment to inspire, enroll, and engage employees.

These leaders must understand all impacts of the organizational climate and be willing to look deeper to understand cultural norms that are interfering with agility and innovation. They must have the finesse to weave the day-to-day task work into the big picture and inspire people to give it their all for the sake of the mission. There is the need to understand people at their core like never before.

Leadership intelligence relies on a person's ability to grow, learn, and master new ways of leading people, and there are three tenets to consider when boosting this type of intelligence:


1. Self-awareness.

Self-awareness begins with the curiosity and courage to hear what works and does not work about your leadership style and the culture that exists in the organization. Once you, as a leader, become aware of your competitive talent advantages and your talent barriers from the eyes of your organization’s employees, you are equipped to take powerful action. Self-awareness allows you to leverage your talent and intervene when and where necessary to remove those personality ticks that are in the way of your true leadership potential. 

Culture and climate awareness opens the door for you to see what is really going on and intervene in the cultural norms and barriers that are in the way of employee engagement, innovation, and synchronicity. When you are curious and courageous, you begin to ask the tough questions and hear the tough answers. When you do this, you begin to see what blind spots may be hidden from your view, and you learn what you do that sabotages or impedes your leadership effectiveness.

Self-awareness is the doorway to emotional intelligence, and it gives you access to real improvement as well as personal and professional development. Being self-aware is not always easy. In almost every case with every human being, there are aspects of personality or behavior that has a negative impact on others, and with an authentic look in the mirror, an aware leader can begin to take responsibility for that negative impact.

Being aware of negative behaviors, alone, is insufficient. Taking responsibility for the impact of those behaviors, asking for forgiveness, and working to shift those limiting ways of being is where leadership intelligence begins. Once leaders have mastered self-awareness, they optimize their ability to leverage situational awareness, which is fundamental to assessing, evaluating, and intervening if need be, in the ebb and flow of the climate and culture of an organization.


2. Executive Brain Function.

Optimizing your executive brain function is a secret weapon of leadership intelligence. The PFC or prefrontal cortex is where the executive brain operates; it is like the controls in a cockpit. This is the part of our brain where strategic thinking, collaboration, reasoning, and creativity come from. The problem is that most leaders learn over time to depend and lean on one hemisphere and become complacent in allowing that hemisphere to run the show. This limits the leader's and organization’s ability to navigate through storms and soar to new heights.

The left hemisphere of our brain is where our organization, categorizing, reasoning, and strategizing come from. It is in the right hemisphere where brainstorming, innovation, collaboration, and relationship abilities are housed. When leaders are aware of their goals and visions as well as in control (conscious) of their thoughts, responses, and well-being—and leverage both hemispheres of their executive brain through right and left hemisphere integration—their leadership intelligence and effectiveness skyrockets.

When leaders are using all of their capacities, they see things they might not see and are more equipped to respond to climate and culture barriers and infringements.


3. Response Agility.

Response agility is the ability to respond in an appropriate, controlled manner—regardless of the current stress or breakdown the leader is facing. Being agile with response and reaction is key to effective leadership. Flat-line reaction is not appropriate for all situations. Screaming and yelling is not appropriate for any situation. Anger and frustration might be needed at times, and curiosity and collaboration may be needed at other times.

Agility in your response means that you have trained yourself to think before reacting. Effective leaders ask themselves: “What is needed now?” This has everything to do with situational awareness and appropriate reaction. When stress hits the fan at work, a leader who has a handle on how she or he will respond and can coach others in this manner, is a leader who is positively contributing to a healthy organizational climate and culture. Response agility takes discipline, awareness, new habit formation, and commitment, and it is a core component of leadership intelligence.

Being a mission-driven leader who inspires people to give their best in service of a compelling vision is a key element of today’s most successful leaders. They know that most people hired for a position are not coming to work simply for a paycheck; these leaders have a keen awareness that many people they hire are coming to work to fulfill an individual purpose in a way that supports the organizational purpose.

Today’s highly effective leaders understand how to inspire spirit de corps and leverage their communications with people to do so. They use their people intelligence to tie work responsibilities and tasks to the overall intention for and strategy of the organization. These leaders also understand the difference between climate and culture and have the aptitude to know how and when to intervene in both.


Learning the fundamentals of how people operate and how to inspire them is the easy part. Mastering those skills is leadership intelligence. Turning your leadership intelligence into your competitive talent advantage is the number one way to impact recruitment and retention of the best people for your organization.





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