July, 26, 2022

Intelligent leadership

Intelligent Leadership: why does it matter?

My time in leadership development, which now scarily spans three decades, (I started young or so I choose to believe!) has been an amazing experience. I’ve been a leader within organisations, a facilitator, a coach, a student of leadership and finally a leader of my own business. All of these experiences have held one thing in common – the importance of relationships.

As humans we are naturally social beings, we live in groups; families, friends, work colleagues and ever more diverse contexts but one thing binds us or not, which is our ability to build and maintain effective relationships. Some may say this is just emotional intelligence, but I think it taps into multiple ‘intelligences’, everything from relational intelligence to conversational intelligence, it’s what underpins it all that continues to interest me.

I discovered early on in my career the impact of a manager for whom relationships were of little importance in comparison to task achievement. Needless to say, I like many others, took what I needed from my role and then moved on. I have also had the pleasure of working with leaders who demanded that I deliver more than ever before but balanced this with building a relationship with me. They got it exactly right and when they didn’t, they learnt from it. These are the people that remain on my ‘speed dial’ for advice and insight and should they ask, I would be happy to work for again and again.

So, I began to ask myself, what is it about these leaders that made me, and still does to this day, be willing to work so hard for them? This is what emerged…

They trusted themselves and others around them. They knew when to give autonomy and responsibility to others and when ‘hands on’ direction was needed. They were open and honest and didn’t play power games. They trusted those around them enough to share their thoughts whilst maintain an innate sense of discretion. They could have the toughest of conversations and say the most direct things because it was clear that they were doing this in the interests of the business or the individual and never as a way to put fear into others or push them firmly ‘back in their box’.

They listened and valued people and not just when they wanted or needed something. They were genuinely interested in different points of view and thinking, they didn’t invite challenge and then publicly or privately chastise that individual for a different perspective. They were able to engage and inspire, sometimes in the way we often think of charismatic visionary leaders, standing up in front of an audience but also in a quiet, consistent way just by their presence.

Finally, they knew when to lead and when to be a follower. They knew the limits of their strengths and didn’t hide their weaknesses, instead they knew that great leadership means that the best leader is needed for every situation and at times that meant that they needed to be a follower. This humility strengthened their leadership position and meant that it was never in question. The impact on their teams meant that no one needed to vie for position or attention from the leader, and no one needed to undermine each other or hold onto information or knowledge, they all knew their strengths and their weaknesses as well. These leaders were able to engender followership throughout the layers of teams way beyond their direct reports; a hello, an acknowledgement, a personal detail remembered meant a sense of personal connection, individuals across the organisation knew who they were ultimately working for. 

So when we came together to create LeadEQ we did it with a simple purpose in mind, which was to offer a way for leaders who are interested in calm and clear leadership, personal power rather than positional power and influence rather than control to experience and develop behaviours, skills and techniques which will bring this to life. As a result, the Intelligent Leadership Model became the backbone of what we do and how we do it. Intelligent because it focuses on the foundation for all ‘intelligences’ and the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.  

So intelligent leadership matters if you value those that you lead for who they are as well as what they can do, it matters if you want to leave a positive leadership legacy and be one of those leaders that people aspire to be and choose to work for and finally it matters if you want those who follow you to bring the best of themselves, the best results and the most they can give you and your organisation.

Thankfully, we are not born with leadership excellence; we learn it and we never stop learning it.

Written by: Sarah Wall Founder & Director, LeadEQ
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