My favorite advice is “know what you don’t know.” Good leaders understand themselves. They know where they are strong and where they are weak. They understand what is most likely to get them riled up, and how to best process stress. The best try to surround themselves with a team that supplements their personal weaknesses. But if you don’t recognize the kinds of intelligence you may lack, how can you hire for them?
Leaders typically have some recognized form of intelligence or talent. Our society rewards intelligence that is quantifiable and validated. People who speak or write well and who have been validated through academic or career success are generally considered to be intelligent. Artists and creatives who have achieved the recognition of their peers or gained financial success are understood to be talented. Strong, respected leaders are usually recognized as having some kind of talent; a genius for recognizing talent, or knowing where the market is going, or understanding what consumers want before they do.
Other types of intelligence are just as useful but often unacknowledged because they aren’t recognized as important. I’m going to cover a few that, in my experience, leaders of creative companies often don’t have and need to find. If you don’t have these kinds of intelligence you need to find people who do and get them on your team.
We don’t think of the ability to tolerate conflict as a form of intelligence, but it is. People who can say what needs to be said even if it’s difficult are invaluable. Most good leaders can do this, but if you have trouble with conflict or you need to be liked, then you need someone who can have hard professional conversations tactfully and considerately. This is about fostering an environment where well-meaning people can disagree on important matters and still get to a resolution—not about hiring a hatchet person.
In the Pacific Northwest, where I live, it’s often hard to find people who can tolerate and encourage frank but heated exchanges of opinion. If you have people, at any level, who can say what needs to be said even if it generates discomfort, then value and nurture that person.
I believe the best work happens in places where people can hammer out differences, test arguments and assumptions, and deliver something stronger as a result. Trust and teamwork play into this, but you need at least one person who is comfortable with conflict to keep things going. These people are easy to find because they can make others uncomfortable. You’ll have heard them referred to as difficult. They often are impetuous and outspoken. They can be a handful to manage. But if you can properly channel that energy it can vitalize your team.
Systems geniuses can look at a set of processes and effortlessly see the whole, and the parts, and how to improve and maximize both. These are often project managers, IT experts, finance managers and producers.
People who lead creative organizations are rarely good with systems, so they need people who are. Systems for IT, accounting, or time management may be incomprehensible to you, but they’re still vital. People with systems intelligence think that stuff is cool. They actually like it. Look for the organized, efficient (and probably junior) worker who suggests improvements. When someone’s eyes light up when they are telling you about a type of timekeeping software or another arcane process improvement, chances are they are a systems geek. Keep them. Listen to them.
We’ve all seen articles on emotional intelligence. But this kind of emotional intelligence is about how groups work together. When you need to change the culture or systems in your organization, these people can anticipate hindrances and resistance that you may not. Other people in the business often come to them with a problems or concerns, and they are genuinely liked and respected. They can tell you – if you ask – how changing a seating plan will impact how the group works. You’ll usually find people with this intelligence in project management, administration or support staff. They might not know they have this skill at all, or even see it as the genius it is. But people with this intelligence can be very helpful, especially if you are a leader of a large organization or if you no longer have the innate sense of morale and team dynamics you once did.
What other kinds of unsung intelligence do you recognize? Let me know in the comments.