Leadership is more than IQ

I believe that leadership is about influencing people to achieve a common goal. To that end, I believe leadership is more about emotional intelligence (EQ) than about intelligence quotient (IQ). Leadership is more about being socially aware than being about being intelligential smart. In my mind leadership is an art rather than a science.

Why would I say that leadership is an art more than I science? I believe that when working with people and in particular influencing people, one needs to operate more in the emotional part of their brain than the logical. Yes, a good leader will use both, however, I believe that working with people is an emotional task.

Leadership style and skills

So if leadership is an art, then how can we improve our leadership skills? Many people spend much time and money on training, books and education. Is this the best use of their time and money? The answer is yes and no. In isolation, I do not believe that you can learn to be a good leader through training and education. Developing your leadership skills requires application.

There are many leadership styles out there, different situations require different leadership approaches. No two situations will require the same approach. So to develop your leadership ability you need to learn through application while being guided by others that have gone before you. This guidance could be through mentoring, books, education, training or a combination.

The Creative Vision of Leadership

At its core, leadership is an art about crafting a vision. Like an artist standing before a blank canvas, a leader dreams of what could be and sets out to turn this vision into reality. This requires not only creativity but also the courage to pursue unconventional paths and the imagination to see beyond current realities. A leader’s vision provides direction and inspires others, drawing them into a shared journey towards achieving something extraordinary.

Emotional Intelligence: The Palette of Leadership

Artists express themselves through their use of colours, textures, and compositions; leaders do so through emotional intelligence. Understanding and managing one’s own emotions, and empathetically navigating those of others, are pivotal skills in effective leadership. This emotional depth allows leaders to connect with their teams on a human level, fostering trust and loyalty. Just as an artist must be sensitive to the emotional impact of their work, a leader must be attuned to the emotional climate of their organization, making leadership an art of emotional engagement.

Adaptability: Leadership as Improvisation

No art piece follows a rigid path from conception to completion, and similarly, leadership is an art that requires a high degree of adaptability. The ability to pivot and adjust strategies in response to changing circumstances is akin to an artist adapting their techniques based on the medium or the message they wish to convey. Leaders, like artists, must be flexible and responsive, using their skills to best meet the needs of the moment without losing sight of the overall vision.

Influence: The Art of Persuasion

Influence is an art form in itself, and it is central to effective leadership. Persuasion isn’t just about argument or coercion; it’s about appealing to people’s values, desires, and aspirations. Leaders influence by creating narratives that resonate with people on a personal level, much like how a compelling story or painting can evoke strong emotions and reactions. This ability to move people, to get them to buy into a vision or a change, is what sets great leaders apart, solidifying the notion that leadership is truly an art.

The Brain: Why Leadership Is an Art

The human brain responds to leadership much as it does to art, processing complex emotional and cognitive layers. Neuroscience suggests that effective leadership activates multiple areas of the brain, including those responsible for emotional resonance, decision-making, and social interactions. This multidimensional engagement is similar to the experience of appreciating art, which also stimulates emotional and cognitive reactions. Understanding this brain response underscores why leadership is an art—it involves not just strategic thinking and management skills but also engaging and influencing others at a deeper, almost instinctual level.

Cultivating Leadership Artistry

Becoming a masterful leader, like mastering any art, requires practice, reflection, and a willingness to learn continuously. Leaders can cultivate their artistry by:

  • Engaging in continuous learning: Just as artists study various forms and techniques, leaders must enhance their understanding of leadership theories, human behaviour, and industry trends.
  • Seeking feedback: Artists thrive on constructive criticism, and leaders should too. Feedback is invaluable for understanding the impact and improving leadership styles.
  • Practising self-awareness: Understanding one’s motivations, strengths, and weaknesses is crucial for leaders. This self-awareness helps in refining one’s leadership approach.
  • Inspiring creativity in others: Just as art is not limited to artists, leadership is not limited to leaders. Encouraging team members to take initiative and be creative contributes to a culture of leadership.

Leadership As An Art

Leadership is an art, not defined by an exact set of rules or formulas. It’s dynamic, it’s personal, and above all, it’s profoundly human. By viewing leadership as an art, leaders can better inspire and impact their teams and organizations. The best leaders, like the greatest artists, leave a lasting impression that resonates well beyond their immediate presence. They craft legacies that inspire future generations, much like artworks that endure through the ages.

Accruing leadership experience

What if you have no leadership experience, how can you develop your leadership ability? Being a leader does not require a leadership position in an organisation. Leadership is about influencing people toward a common goal. This could be in your peer group, or it could be on your sporting team. If you have not been in a leadership role before then start small and influence the people on your team.

Just like an artist may start out and not be happy with their first piece of work, leadership can be the same. Just like a good artist will have a mentor to guide them, seek out and develop relationships with leaders that can help them be better. Find podcasts, books, training and education that can support you to implement better leadership.

Growing responsibility

Then over time, just as an artist may become great, so will your responsibilities grow as you become better at leadership. The better you become at influencing people the greater your leadership responsibility will become. Remember that leadership is an art form that requires practice, constant reflection and review.

If you have the desire to be a good leader I would encourage you to remember that leadership is an art, not a science. Books, training and education can help to develop your ability, however, like all art forms, practice and application are required to become an artist. Emotional and social skills will influence your leadership ability more than your intellectual ability.