making the case for intelligence in leadership


sunrise from yesterday morning

I’ve given some thought to what has happened in Canada in the last month, and what is happening in the United States right now, both economically and politically.
Boy, if you could have told me that I would be writing about economics and politics on my blog about 6 years ago, I would have been very, very skeptical. Traditionally I have found the topics to be dull and boring, but not so in the last couple of months. That isn’t to say Canadian politics haven’t been boring – I give Canada’s quintet of leadership through boredom full credit for keeping up their usual bickering and knack for moving nothing forward and ensuring status quo for Canada – maybe it’s better that way. Perhaps we don’t need new laws (*cough* C-61 *cough*) so perhaps the leaders of our country can’t decide what to do because they don’t really know what they should be doing. The Copyright bill (C-61) would be the strongest indication of this – a minister by the name of Jim Prentice put forward a bill to do with photography ownership, mp3s, essentially anything to do with ideas. I have listened to quite a few radio shows on this subject and read a substantial amount through Michael Geist’s website since, and the conclusion that I have come to is that Jim Prentice put forward a bill after consulting with corporate and government groups – record labels, US DMCA, etc – none of them being the public (who he works for), and then put together a bill based on what they wanted. I do not get the impression that he particularly knows what he is talking about, especially after reading Michael Geist‘s hammering of his bill, where Michael made 61 recommendations to improve the bill – one exhaustive one each day for 61 days straight. If Jim Prentice had a read of this, I would think he would feel very humbled. There is nothing embarrassing about consulting the experts. There is so much intelligence in Canada, are we not big enough to employ it?
The less-than startling conclusion here is that Jim Prentice, after all of this, appears to be much less intelligent than Michael Geist. Does that boil it down too much to an uncomfortable level? Is that fair to say? I would say it is, and I would also say that it is how people are making decisions about how they decide who they want to lead their country. In this case, Jim Prentice was appointed to be Minister of Industry, and Michael Geist is not a politician but rather a Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa. So in this circumstance the matter of intelligence does not have a lot of impact on what is about to happen. But south of the border, the case for intelligent leadership is making itself.
From my observations north of the border, John McCain just does not articulate himself in a way that comes across as particularly intelligent. “I know how to do that” is he uses quite often without any suggestion of how exactly it is that he’s going to pull off the things he promises. And I believe it’s the source and the reason why polls are showing that McCain failed to win any of the Presidential debates. Perhaps people want transparency.
All of this at a time when the nation of the United States finds itself it financial turmoil, in a twisted puzzle of money and policy that will require a lot of thought to unravel and correct. People are not wanting an ordinary person to run their country when the problems are beyond the scope of ordinary inspirational leadership. There is a need for critical thinking that questions and rationalizes, instead of just “knowing how” to do stuff as John McCain suggests he does. This is too vague, too random, and frankly it underestimates the intelligence of the voters. I wont even get into his choice for running-mate – I think that is best summed up by John Cleese’s observations. (Thanks to Adam for the link.)

What makes good leadership?

When this question comes up to existing leaders in various fields – not just politics – there is usually some references that look like this:

  • Communicating complex ideas in understandable ways
  • An unthreatening ability to work with people to get things done
  • Being at the right place at the right time
  • The ability to empathize
  • Confidence to take action
  • Knowing when to let someone else lead
  • Seeing the big picture – it’s not just about you
  • Being recognizable as a leader, even when you don’t officially have the title on you – yet

Part luck, part skill, part instinct. One of the things that I have admired about the Clinton camp in this election is their ability to get behind Obama and lead from a position you’d not normally expect people to be able to lead from. That is part of their strength from my point of view, and I get a feeling a lot of others see it that way as well. While the Palin/McCain camp wants more aggression and literally chants “fight, fight, fight” at their rallies, we have something completely different with Obama/Biden – discussions of plans and solutions with tangible handles on them. It’s very different.
I have to admit that this post has been almost two weeks in the making – one of the items I’ve been wrestling with is “what does leadership mean to me?” I don’t have all the answers myself, but I did spend quite a bit of time on that very short list above. Everyone has an idea of what makes a great leader, and I have no doubt you come across one regularly. What is it to you that makes good leadership? What traits do you admire about that person you know that not only directs but also inspires those around them?

Join the Conversation


  1. charisma
    For now, that is all, but these traits are important values for me to find in bosses, politicians, and to work on as my own values.
    Nice post, Davin. The best part about elections is that, god willing, it at least gets us all thinking about these things.

  2. Interesting post, Davin. I’m working on my December article for FOCUS (it’s past deadline, yikes) right now, and am thinking about some things I heard Jim Dewald present at an Urban Development Institute luncheon back in September, which relate to the leadership question, imo.
    He talked about the “knowing-doing” gap, and how politicians get caught in this gap. They *know* (or say) one thing, but *do* something quite different (or, sometimes worse, do nothing).
    Why is that? Dewald argued that effective knowing comes *through* doing & teaching, and that there’s no doing without mistakes. Knowing through doing is more effective than knowing, then doing. Most people get caught up in the idea that they have to *know* fully first, before doing, so they can stave off “mistakes.”
    The key difference, perhaps, between good leaders and people who shouldn’t be in the business of leadership is in how they approach making mistakes. The thought of making mistakes creates fear in most people. That in turn fosters a “doing” gap — a bad leader is someone who tries to appear like she has all the answers. A good one isn’t afraid of mistakes and realizes that they’re part of the game.
    Maybe that relates to your “intelligence” question, right? The *false* leader tries to look smart by appearing as though he *knows* everything already (hello, Mr. Prentice!), while a good leader would allocate resources and time to *learning* about the problem and by working on it — and maybe making some (fixable) mistakes along the way.
    Well, sorry I’m sort of rambling — I’m finding the tiny white text on black ground kinda hard on my increasingly strained little eyeballs! But I wanted to say that enjoyed your post, and think that your categories (above) suggest that a leader is someone who flexibly moves back and forth between knowing and doing, doing and knowing, and who learns along the way.

  3. charity
    compassion (good call craig)
    faith (NOT religion or talk of faith, but real, practical faith)
    willingness to serve
    yule, you’re right about the white text on black background. a good designer usually tries to avoid this heinous practice, unless of course it is a matter of personal taste, or for a specific purpose.
    yes davin, that was a poke!
    very much looking forward to the week ahead…

  4. I’m not surprised – these are excellent points Craig, Yule and Joel.
    Re: The black background with white text for the form area is deliberate – the solid black adds clarity for your own words against an otherwise patterned background. It is like this for all form elements on this site – and it is a matter of taste. I don’t want this to be a corporate black-on-white design – I make those every day and find them terribly boring. However, perhaps the text is too small if it is straining your eyes. I’ll bump up the font size. Thank you for the feedback!

  5. Based on your feedback, I have moved the main body type up to 12px, the comment form text also is up to 12px, and any 9px type (posted by etc) has been changed to uppercase and a bold font-weight for readability. Hope this helps!

  6. If it’s any worth, your page formats beautifully on an iphone. Better than I would have expected, and better than most pages do, including such websites as the Globe and Mail… Not sure if you’ve done something mobilicious or not, but hey props!!
    ps: just booked four days in Victoria in December for me and Erica. Yep, Victoria- no day trip! Can’t wait to see you again.

  7. wow this is looking a lot better, i like it! i’m not totally sure if stylesheets allow for this sort of thing, but i also suggest increasing the overall tracking by 15-25%

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