Intellect: The Substance of RIPPLE Leadership

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

Intellect is the ‘substance’ of Ripple Leadership. People often think of intellect as a certain point on the Intelligent Quotient (IQ) line but while IQ is important, perhaps more important is EQ or Emotional Quotient.


Let’s first address IQ. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Intellect annuls fate. So far as a man thinks, he is free.” Leadership, today, requires schooling but the skill that educational institutions most need to focus on is the ability to think, that very ability that Emerson so wisely said annuls fate. In today’s world the body of knowledge is too vast to continue to operate schools as they were originally conceived which was essentially having a teacher or professor fill the empty vessel, known as the student, with knowledge. Change is really the only constant as our understanding of our universe. How the universe works, as we understand it, changes on a daily basis. Technology has turned the way we need to educate upside down.


Education is critical to maintaining a heathy society and to creating leaders. However, education no longer means reading, writing and arithmetic although each of these skills is important. The essential skill is thinking and so when we are talking about a leader’s IQ we need to focus on the ability of an individual to think clearly, independently and with wisdom. We hear so much today about the need to seek consensus and this should not be ignored. But John Collins got it right in his book Good to Great when he pointed out that “consensus decisions are often at odds with intelligent decisions”. The final decision always remains with the leader and you want that leader to have the ability to think clearly in supporting or altering the decision arrived at by consensus.


What we need to do is hire the brightest and the best for our organization and the pool of talent is no longer just local but rather it is global! Microsoft recruits the most talented graduates from the best universities around the globe. Not only are they getting high potential talent, but also, an incredibly diverse workforce which adds even more strength to their organization. But hiring the brightest and the best must not be defined only by grades or by the reputation of a school. These are often misleading factors. The recent college admissions scandal in the United States offers a cautionary tale. In this case wealth became the determinant for some students gaining entrance to Ivy League schools. There are far more important determinants of intelligence than grades or the school’s reputation.

Organizations are getting wiser in the way they recruit. They recognize there is now a global pool of talent and that grades are not always a reliable indicator of academic achievement seeing them instead as only one indicator. Now recruiters see post secondary degrees in their proper perspective: as a demonstration that the individual has the ability to learn. They are now looking at all of Gardner’s intelligences.


This only makes sense as in today’s workforce the organization wants individuals who are creative (spatial and existential intelligences) rather than just logical. Organizations want individuals who are fit (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) and who can present their ideas well (linguistic intelligence). Every organization today is always looking for leadership potential in their recruits and the broader the range of intellects one has, the more the possibility exists that that individual could develop into a leader. We all know the examples of excellent leaders who were ignored because our IQ focus was so narrow. Einstein’s teachers considered him mentally retarded; Thomas Edison was considered too dumb to learn anything; Bill Gates dropped out of college and Walt Disney left school at 16 years of age as did Richard Branson. It is true that there is no substitute for intellect provided our definition of intellect is not narrow. And that brings us to EQ.


In 2003, Rolf Jensen, then head of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies said: “we are in the twilight of a society based on data. As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place new value on the human ability that can’t be automated: emotion. Imagination, myth, ritual---the language of emotion---will affect everything from our purchasing decisions to how well we work with others.” Look at how artificial intelligence is advancing and changing the way decisions are made. Mr. Jensen was right and that is why EQ has become a distinguishing factor between the good and the best leader. Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the study of EQ, says that: “Effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as ‘emotional Intelligence’”.


Goleman had four traits in his emotional intelligence model: self-awareness; self-management; empathy (both cognitive and emotional); and, relationship skills. His research suggested that 80-90% of the competencies that distinguish star leaders are built on emotional intelligence.


Self-awareness is critical in any leadership. Know thyself was inscribed in Latin on the frontispiece of the Temple of Delphi. Both Socrates and Plato urged people to know themselves in order to not make fools of themselves when trying to know more about the obscure. We all have inherent biases, or particular viewpoints, that affect the way we think or make decisions. We have personal values that may differ from others and we have our own way of dealing with our own and other’s emotions. If we are to successfully lead others, we must look in the mirror and see ourselves as others would see us.

Many successful organizations use 360 degree evaluations and every leader should do so. We all have our own blind spots when it comes to seeing ourselves, but a 360 degree evaluation, particularly when administered independently, allows us to see ourselves as others see us. The information provided builds our self awareness and one of the most important aspects is that the evaluation can remind us of our own weaknesses. We need to always be conscious of our own strengths and limitations in the area of emotions knowing what the triggers are so we can work to keep a necessary balance. Maintaining such a balance is required in exercising Goleman’s second emotional domain of ‘self-management’.


Self management requires a leader to control his/her emotions. This is particularly important in times of crisis when a leader must be seen to be calm. Living in British Columbia during this Covid 19 pandemic, I admire our provincial public health director who has spoken to the public every day and become known around the world for her leadership. She exhibits exceptional EQ recognizing the stresses of this time and she speaks in a manner that people see as calming and reassuring. Her mantra of ‘be calm, be kind, be safe’ has resonated leading to an incredibly respectful attitude throughout the province. As a result the population has followed her leadership resulting in one of the lowest infectious rates in the world!


Dr. Henry has employed all the skills of self-management. She has maintained emotional self control keeping the focus on the goal of controlling the spread of this deadly virus. She has shown her ability to adapt by displaying superb agility in rapidly changing and challenging conditions. And throughout she has maintained a positive outlook always focusing on the good things that people are doing in the face of such adversity. Her comments that this is ‘for now, not forever” and “we are in this together” give people a sense of community and accountability to that community. She has become a leader who is universally respected in large part because she understands and practices emotional intelligence which also includes the domain of social awareness.


The biggest factor in social awareness is exercising empathy. Everyday of the pandemic this woman showed empathy for those who suffered from the illness, from loss of family, from loss of income, as well as those frontline workers trying to gain control of the virus. She seemed to understand the emotional currents in every stream of society and her daily briefings directly addressed each of them. During the question period that occurred at every briefing she demonstrated her ability to listen deeply so she could understand every nuance and responded in a way that demonstrated her social awareness. Any leader in any organization needs to be able to read the emotions within the organization so they can be more strategic in their approach to people and departments. To do so they must always be willing to listen deeply and with empathy.


The final domain of Goleman’s EQ relates to our ‘R’ or as he calls it: relationship management. Relationships are the core of RIPPLE leadership and managing them plays just as important a role in emotional intelligence. Leading is hard work made much easier if one is able to develop followers who are engaged and inspired. This can only happen if a leader pays great attention to building and sustaining positive relationships with and among both individuals and teams within the organization.


I will conclude this section noting that followers want both authenticity and integrity from their leaders. Hence, leaders will and should display emotions as long as they are displayed in an authentic but managed fashion. Compassion is an essential characteristic of a leader and it enables EQ to function. At the root of compassion is ‘passion”, our next essential of RIPPLE Leadership.

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