Are strong academic and intellectual credentials a mark of a good leader?

Hashtag: #labourleadership

Mark of a Good Leader

The Traits Model of Leadership

There is a popular impression that being an intellectual is one thing and being an effective leader is another. Intellectuals, according to the literature, are often seen as eccentric, iconoclast, awkward, irresponsible, self-absorbed, and individualistic thus incapable of leading collective activities.  For instance, in relation to #labourleadership or UK’s Labour Party leadership where alleged anti-austerity Jeremy Corbyn was recently elected, several politicians who led this political party in the past were not effective leaders. The late Michael Foot according to author Bruce Macfarlane had very strong academic and intellectual credentials but was not prepared to compromise his beliefs for the sake of political expediency. In fact, he is always remembered as the leader who endorsed the dispatched of the task force in the Falklands War in 1982 and led the Labor Party to its greatest election defeat in 1983.

The traits model of leadership suggests that the characteristics of a person are a predictor of both successful and unsuccessful leaders.  For instance, although an intelligent, self-confident, determined, honorable, and sociable person has the capacity to be a leader, he or she according to study needs to possess the five personality factors – neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

These personality factors suggest that the most effective leaders have tendencies to be depressed, anxious, insecure, and hostile. They are not only sociable and assertive, and have positive energy, but informed, creative, insightful, and curious. They are people that have the tendency to accept, confirm, trust, and nurture. Finally, they are systematic, prepared controlled, dependable, and decisive individuals.

A leader, according to the literature needs to be effective in guiding the conduct of others, thus must be effective in conveying meanings and intentions, and in receiving them. A leader for that matter does not necessarily need to be an intellectual, a quality of a person that according to organization and management expert and author Chester Bernard does not work well with leadership.  The reason is that people with superior intellect and greater intellectual accomplishments are often absent-minded, non-punctual, non-decisive, and not interested in people.  Although intellectual abilities are sometimes a critical element in leadership, it is not a substitute for the other essential qualities of leadership such as those mentioned earlier.

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None Creature Can Fly with Just One Wing

Successful leadership occurs where heart and mind meet, the two powerful wings that allow a leader to excel.  According to the study, leaders need to have enough intellect in order to understand and perform the tasks at hand, a quality that gets people in the leadership door. However, although intellect is considered a fundamental leadership trait, it is not enough to make a leader. For instance, aside from intellect, a leader need to motivate, guide, inspire, listen, persuade, and create resonance in order to execute a vision.

Intellect, according to Albert Einstein, has “powerful muscles, but no personality…it can serve but cannot lead”.  Moreover, Swami Vivekananda, a key figure in Indian philosophy noted in one of his London lectures that “intellect is blind and cannot move by itself…Inactive secondary help, the real help is feeling”.  Moreover, intellect without feelings cannot generate “authentic power”, the sustainable type of power over individual and organizations that according to the literature is the result of mastery of authenticity and emotional intelligence – unconditional trust, respect, honesty, truth, fairness, openness, care, and forgiveness.  Authentic power is generated by a leader’s capacity to do things with others while the quality of interactions and relationships is determined by the level of his or her emotional and social intelligence.


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