Leadership and 3 Other Types of “Smart”

My daughters and I have been discussing different types of intelligence. It began when Eden and Evie were asking questions about “being smart in school.” I shared that while I wanted them to study hard and do as well as possible, there are other types of intelligence than “school smart.” In fact, “school smart” is not the most important “type of smart.” There are lots of “school smart leaders” who struggle to actually lead or accomplish anything.

For a season, Google notoriously asked potential hires for their SAT scores because they believed that intelligence was a critical predictor of performance. Imagine being a 35-year-old candidate and being asked to submit the scores from a test you took on an early morning during your junior year of high school. After looking for a relationship between scores and employee impact, Google stopped the practice. Google’s Senior VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, said, “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and GPAs and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.”

My point is not to discount intellectual intelligence completely but to say that intellectual intelligence is incomplete for the leader. As leaders, we must sharpen our minds. We should grow and develop intellectually, but leading well requires much more than a high IQ. Great leaders bring more to their teams than book knowledge and high test-scores. They display more than cognitive intelligence. They possess and seek to grow in the following three other types of smart (I will borrow the language my daughters and I have been using):

1) Social smart

By social smart, I mean the ability to engage others relationally. Because leaders lead people, great leaders, whether introverted or extroverted, love people and desire to serve them. In his popular books Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership, researcher and author Daniel Goleman writes that the most effective leaders are emotionally intelligent. More than a high IQ (intelligence quotient), great leaders have a high EQ (emotional quotient). Effective leaders, Goleman contends, have the ability to manage their emotions, to genuinely connect with people, to offer kindness and empathy, to lead with joy and inspiration, and to display the master skill of patience.

2) Street smart

Street smart, or wisdom, is knowledge applied to real life. It is the art of living life skillfully. There are many who hold a leadership title because they can converse on a subject, but they struggle to actually apply all that they know. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Charles Spurgeon said, “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many people know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”

3) Spirit smart

And this is the most important. Listening to the Spirit’s prompting, following His leadership, trumps everything else. The church and the world need leaders who are Spirit smart—who know and heed the voice of the One who dwells within them. At times the Spirit will lead a leader to actions that confound human wisdom, to moves that do not make sense on paper. After all, we are part of an upside-down kingdom whose King came to serve and offer Himself for us.

God is gracious to the leaders He calls. He equips us for every good work. The attributes that Goleman describes in “emotionally intellectual people” sound a lot like the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.). God also graciously gives wisdom to all who ask for it, without finding fault in us. And He has graciously given us His Spirit to lead us and guide us.