What kind of intelligence does a leader need to succeed?

Back in 1995 I read a book called Emotional Intelligence (Bantam), by Daniel Goleman. I have to admit that I really did not understand a heck of a lot of what he was talking about. You see, Emotional Intelligence was a new phenomenon. I had never really heard of it as a studied discipline. I was very familiar with IQ, high levels of technical knowledge, and the various descriptions associated with great leaders. Emotional Intelligence, No way I said. This past week, while finishing a project at Harvard for one of my management classes, i had come across the same book again.I will shamefully admit that i could not put it down.  

Goleman found that while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership-such as intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision-are required for success, they are insufficient.  This made me think of how Emotional Intelligence (let’s call it EI for short) operates and its relationship with effective performance. Happily, as I read the book once more, I realized we had covered several of those answers in the prior posts of this blog.  Tangible, quantifiable criteria, such as profitability, employee turnover, assessments, were used to differentiate the star performers at senior levels within their organizations from the average ones. Interviews and tests were conducted, and capabilities were compared. The results were as suspected. Intellect was a driver of outstanding performance. The top performers also possessed cognitive skills such as big picture thinking and long term vision. Equally satisfying to me, it was also concluded that, differences in technical skills among leaders, were of negligible importance.

As such, we will now continue with our series regarding the characterisitcs of great leaders, how to identify them, and work with them. This is called managing from all levels- The Stratosphere or the water cooler.

At 30,000 feet, you can see the total picture of your business, your industry, and maybe even the economy. You can detect interesting patterns that might create opportunities for your business — imperative to stay ahead of the game.

But if your thinking is always in the stratosphere, you might miss important details. You also have to be incisive, drilling to the specifics.

Otherwise your bold goals might be completely unrealistic; you won’t be able to pinpoint the priorities for your group, and you won’t know if your grand plans are being executed.

Also, those details have to be the right ones. Of all the observations you make, all the numbers your business generates, and all the sources of information available to you, you have to make a judgment about which ones really matter.

Patterns of Thinking

In business, how you think is just as important as what you think.

The ability to think at multiple altitudes, from 30,000 feet to 50 feet, is a distinct advantage in exercising your leadership know-how. But there are at least two other ways of thinking that are equally potent.

• Reframing

Reframing is being able to change your vantage point, to look at a phenomenon or problem from a very different perspective. It’s how leaders redefine their market and create new growth trajectories – MS going from competing in OS to competing in SEO.

You can use reframing to get team members to focus on a common goal rather than on their individual interests.

I once worked for a CEO of a hospitality holding company. He wanted to dig into the details of the business, so he went to work as a street cleaner. At that level, he noticed something he didn’t like: The hard-working janitorial staff viewed customers as the enemy who stood in the way of their mission to keep the parks and parking lots clean.

So he reframed their mission from cleanliness and safety to “giving customers the greatest day of their life.” Seeing their roles in a different light gave the staff a more positive attitude toward customers and paved the way for a better customer experience.

• Connecting the dots

Linear, analytic thinking is useful and important, but sometimes you have to take mental leaps in order to make sense of incomplete or seemingly unrelated pieces of information. You have to go beyond the charts and graphs and use imagination to connect the dots.

This mental process can be unconscious. If you ponder a problem for days and suddenly wake up one morning with a clear answer, your unconscious mind has done the work of connecting the dots. It appears to be intuitive.

Think how important connecting the dots is in a business meeting. As the dialogue flows among people, you as the leader should try to make connections between the ideas as they spontaneously arise. The better you get at this, the more productive the discussion will be as you synthesize the ideas rather than choosing among them

Anyone competing in the media or software development industry — or any fast-changing industry, for that matter — has to be able to make connections even as the dots themselves change.

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