Leadership Requires Convictional Intelligence

Talking about brain smarts is often a way to incite some conflict.  My wife and I once took intelligence tests and she outranked me on the scale.  At times she brings up those test results if we are in some discussions with each other.  Intelligence is controversial since it is inseparable from other kinds of issues.  In the middle of the twentieth century, educators, business, and political leaders thought that a person’s IQ was the key to unlocking the secrets of who would succeed and who would not.  I once was denied a job because my college entrance score was lower than what the interviewer had as a threshold.  I don’t think the interviewer appreciated me pointing out the abject absurdity of asking that question to a person who had taken the exam two decades earlier. 

Calvin Coolidge in his great quote on persistence notes that that genius is inferior to persistence as unrewarded genius is a proverb.  Education is inferior to persistence as the world is filled with educated derelicts.  Intelligence as mere intellectual ability is not a good projector of where someone will get in life or even about their ability to lead.  I once heard a college president say, “Be nice to your ‘A’ students as some may come back and teach at your institution.  Be nice to your ‘C’ students as some of them will come back and spend millions of dollars to erect a building on campus!”

Intelligence starts with the mental capacity to receive, process, and use knowledge.  But other forms of intelligence are just as necessary.  Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist, popularized the idea of multiple intelligences.  We may think of them as abilities.  Some of these may be musical intelligence, spatial intelligence, logical intelligence, or linguistic intelligence.  If all which was required for leadership success was a high IQ, then only those with the biggest brain would be the business tycoons, political leaders, and thought leaders of our society.  But, as we know, this is not always this way. 

In the past year, I read about emotional intelligence (EQ).  Daniel Goleman of Rutgers University studied 200 corporations and their leaders.  His findings showed that intellect was a driver of outstanding performance.  Skills such as big-picture thinking, and long-term vision were important.  But when the ratio of technical skills, IQ and EQ were measured as the ingredients of outstanding performance, EQ proved twice as important as all the others.  This was true for all jobs at all levels. 

Goleman identified skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills as important keys of leadership.  If a leader lacks elements of EQ, it really does not matter how smart he is.  Einstein was a genius, but he was not much of a leader.  Many of the world’s most mentally gifted people lack empathy and emotional skills to lead well. 

Another type of intelligence necessary for success is that of morals or ethics.  We often see examples in business or government where a moral failure may have produced a business success but led people to an outcome that was wrong.  We saw this with the push at Wells Fargo to build market share of its customers.  For years we knew of Wells as a place that trained people well but burnt through them with a heavy-handed management style that incited front line people to open accounts just to make sales goals.  Some did this jus to keep their jobs.  Some to make a bonus.  Some of these accounts were not real causing Wells to reap millions of dollars of profit, and a tarnished image at the same time.  Albert Mohler states that “financial intelligence will wreck itself without moral intelligence and the guidance of ethical reasoning.”

Mohler makes the case in his book, The Conviction to Lead, for a further type of intelligence necessary for leadership.  This is convictional intelligence.  A leader without any sort of base intelligence will not be able to communicate ideas effectively.  If a leader has a low EQ, they can’t connect with the people they are trying to lead.  A leader with misplaced ethics will lead people into a moral catastrophe.  But leaders who lack convictional intelligence will fail to lead people faithfully. 

Convictional intelligence begins with a basis in truth, and a strong moral compass.  For me, it begins with my faith.  The knowledge of truth should form habits that impact your thinking and rethinking as information is processed in the world around you.  Habits are part of all our lives.  Think about this morning when you awoke, cleaned up, got dressed and started your day.  You may not remember brushing your teeth or putting on your socks, but you did.  Some mornings you may not remember much about the drive into the office, yet you made it.  Why is this?  Your intelligence was at work in every one of these actions, but you are operating out of habit, reflex, and intuition.  These are three factors that point toward convictional intelligence. 

Habits of the mind tell much about us.  If you ignore the assistance of people around you, it points toward ingratitude.  If you devote yourself to constantly studying, it points to a habit or discipline of constantly improving. 

Reflexes are the second factor of convictional intelligence.  Much of this comes from attitudes.  Chuck Swindoll stated, “Life is 10% of my actions and 90% of my reactions.”  If you doubt that, think about how much of your workday is consumed with answering questions, responding to emails, and putting out fires.  Somedays, my entire time is one continuous set of reactions strung together.  Now reactions with proper grounding are very beneficial to leading others, while flying off the handle can stop progress in its tracks. 

The last part is intuition.  Steve Jobs was described as a master of intuition by people at Apple.  They tell how he would hold an iPhone prototype in his hands and run his fingers over each crevice and angle on the surface.  Then he would order modifications until it would feel right to his touch.  We call this trusting your gut.  I have asked our analysts once they have reviewed a credit and interacted with the borrower, “what does your gut tell you?”  A trained gut is often more beneficial than the sharpest mind. 

Convictional intelligence uses these things to lead.  It is also sprinkled with humility.  A good convictional leader realizes that he is always learning.  Churchill once said, “success was going from failure to failure with great enthusiasm.”  Another reason for humility is the knowledge that as a leader, someday and often multiple times, you will be called to give an account for your leadership.