[November 30, 2016] Whenever people talk about important leadership traits, they never fail to mention intelligence as a key component in making leaders successful. Just like honesty and courage, intelligence always finds a place as a crucial component of leadership. Yet anyone who owns a dog and has had their dog around others know that even dogs (and other animals too) have leaders as well; we call them alpha dogs and yet they are certainly not intelligent like we understand.
“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill
The point is that “cognitive” intelligence only plays a relatively small role in leadership. Certainly being intelligent makes it much easier to be a successful leader but it is not an absolute requirement. Many people, like me, who are not the brightest intellect, will be happy to hear this. See my earlier comments on this here and here.
While we now recognize various types of intelligence, like emotional intelligence, existential intelligence, and verbal-linguistic intelligence, some intermix helps us function best with people in social situations. Often referred to as common sense, good judgment is what intelligence is all about. That means a person with intelligence is capable of adapting to changes in the local environment.
There is no doubt that cognitive intelligence plays a role in good leadership, it requires an array of skill sets to be truly a good leader; mental acuity, technical skills, resilience, empathy, motivation, to mention a few. Winston Churchill frequently made comment on this very issue. He was convinced that hard work, not intelligence per se, was the key to great leadership. Churchill was likely thinking of his own childhood when he performed poorly in school, talked with a lisp, and stuttered.
It is best to propose that much of what we attribute to innate intelligence is actually learned; forming the basis of the idea that leaders are made, not born. Fortunately, with focus and motivation we can learn many of those things that make leaders successful. For example, honesty and courage are learned behaviors that require frequent practice.
When Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain during its darkest hours of World War II, he relied on hard work, dedication to the cause, and strength of character to carry him through. When ordinary men would have quit or given up, he continued because of his belief in the cause of freedom. It was not intelligence that made the difference.
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