Could This Could Be The Most Important Leadership Skill?

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When you are leading in a challenging season, you must up your game in just about every dimension of effective leadership. But no skill could be more important than that of leadership intelligence.

When your team is feeling unsettled, or even fearful, there’s little point in casting vision, devising strategies or even setting goals; at least, not until you have grasped the emotional temperature of the team.

That’s a function of leadership intelligence.

This involves:

  • Being able to ‘read the room’, (whether in person, or in Zoom)

  • Discerning the level of anxiety in the team,

  • Noticing how distracted they are by external forces.

These are the skills of Leadership Intelligence. Like Emotional Intelligence, or Relational Intelligence, Leadership Intelligence is a nuanced level of discernment that enables a leader to:

  • Create a healthy, sustainable culture,

  • Build a team who can function and even thrive in uncertain times.

What does Leadership Intelligence look like?

1. It can recognize sagging shoulders, and will step in to offer genuine encouragement.

This does not mean becoming the personal counselor for the team. It means paying enough attention to their emotional well-being that you can tell when someone is struggling. And it means talking it through if necessary.

2. It can tell when a team just needs a change

When times are tough, sometimes team members can respond well to a change of responsibilities. Give people a new project or a temporary new assignment. The change of pace can sometimes do wonders.

3. It can spot needless irritations, and weed them out

Sometimes the removal of minor irritant can make a huge difference. You likely can’t fix everything, but there could be small improvements you could make that will result in improved morale. Is your team working remotely? Just boosting their wifi capacity can be huge.

4. It can listen to what is not being said, as well as what is being said

“Are you feeling okay about everything?”

“Yup, all good.”

Leadership intelligence can read tone of voice to discern if there’s something deeper going on. Maybe they won’t say every concern that’s on their mind, but leadership intelligence can often hear it nonetheless.

So learn to pay attention to those vibes that don’t show up in a formal report.

They could be telling you more than any spreadsheet you’ll ever read.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.


  1. Thanks Scott. I love this idea of Leadership Intelligence. It’s more than simply emotional intelligence, although that is clearly important. It also seems to me to be about using the responsibility and authority to effect change where it’s needed, to help your team thrive.

  2. I appreciate your comment, Rob. And I especially like the idea of tying leadership intelligence to responsibility and authority, and how we use it. Great insight.

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