Leadership Systems

Leading the Way

What makes a leader effective vs. harmful?

Robert Sternberg, one of the prolific and widely cited psychologists in history, spoke to this issue at the annual convention of the Canadian Psychological Association being held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Sternberg is the originator of the WICS model of leadership, which involves: Wisdom, Intelligence, Creativity, Synthesized.

In his 2007 review paper on the WICS, Sternberg describes the WICS this way:

According
to the model, effective leadership is a synthesis of
wisdom, creativity, and intelligence (WICS). It is in large
part a decision about how to marshal and deploy these
resources. One needs creativity to generate ideas, academic
(analytical) intelligence to evaluate whether the
ideas are good, practical intelligence to implement the
ideas and persuade others of their worth, and wisdom to
balance the interests of all stakeholders and to ensure that
the actions of the leader seek a common good.

What makes this model unique is that it combines individual characteristics with a sense of purpose for a “common good” and, in both cases, emphasizes individual agency. Sternberg knows of what he speaks and writes. Among his more than 1400 academic publications are large bodies of work that focus on human creativity, wisdom and learning, and intelligence. His Triarchic Theory of Intelligence has, along with the work of fellow psychologist Howard Gardner, transformed our understanding of human capability and broadened the focus away from the very narrow, culturally constrained, vision of intelligence that dominated much of the psychology literature in the 20th century.

People choose to be leaders

Sternberg views leadership as a choice, not something you’re not born with. It is also something that relies heavily on creativity, something that is inherently a personal and a social quality. The WICS, in its basic form is  educational and transformative (my words not his). By linking creativity, perceptual and cognitive abilities, experience and synthesis, a systems-sensitive model of leadership is proposed via the WICS.

Other models can be criticized for their de-emphasis on time (past accomplishment) and over-emphasis on information and analytics to the detriment of wisdom. Intelligence, while inferred, can be viewed superficially as something fit for ‘natural’ leaders, thus reducing the role that personal choice plays in leadership. Creativity, also inferred, is another feature of leadership models that is often overlooked in favour of charisma. Most importantly, Sternberg’s model rests on the ability of leaders to do their work in the service of humanity and is careful to distinguish good leaders from bad ones; those that inspire sustainable good works rather than promote the opposite. It is for that reason that a Nelson Mandela is worth studying more than an Adolf Hitler.

Although the WICS is not new, the need to bring it back into focus and inspire people to lead and to nurture the four qualities within it are needed more than ever. A simple survey of the unfolding crises on the Korean Peninsula, off the coast of Gaza, and in the Gulf of Mexico one can see the need for better, wiser, intelligent and creative leaders.

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