Leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives. –Max De Pree

Greenleaf writes: The requirements of leadership impose some intellectual demands that are not usually measured by academic intelligence ratings. . .  The leader needs three intellectual abilities that may not be assessed in an academic way: one needs to have a sense of the unknowable, to be prepared for the unexpected, and to be able to foresee the unforeseeable.  The leader knows some things and foresees some things which those one is presuming to lead do not know or foresee as clearly.  This is partly what gives the leader his ‘lead,’ that puts him out ahead and qualifies him or her to show the way.

Talk about a daunting challenge!  As if leaders don’t have enough challenges already; Greenleaf ups the ante again (he really likes to up the ante) by telling us that it is important for leaders to develop three intellectual abilities.

The Leader needs to have a sense of the unknowable.  The leader does not have to ‘know’ the unknowable; he/she ‘simply’ needs a ‘sense’ of the unknowable.  A definition might help us to embrace this idea with less anxiety: ‘Sense’ = a feeling or perception.  How might one begin to develop this ‘sense’ of the unknowable?   Greenleaf notes that if one is awake and aware – open to having a sense of the unknowable, for example – one might well be disturbed.  Is the leader open to stating that he/she does not ‘know’?  Is the leader willing to become ‘disturbed’?  I have found that one way to obtain a sense of the unknowable is to frame questions from a place of not knowing.  These questions are then to be held or to be ‘lived’ (my thanks to the poet, Rilke, for the idea of ‘living the questions’).  A question might also be explored by a ‘good thinking team.’  The goal of the ‘good thinkers’ is not to ‘know’ but to inquire more deeply, to consider, to engage in searching via conversation.  My experience is that the good thinking of a team of folks will help provide a sense of the unknowable.

The Leader needs to be prepared for the unexpected.  Greenleaf notes that the emerges the leader will be able to engage it.  One way of preparing is via imaging what might occur.  Another way of preparing involves a team that is charged with scenario planning (Greenleaf was an advocate of scenario planning).  Greenleaf relates how he prepared for an emergency – over a ten year period – so that when it presented itself he was able to respond (he was not sure that this emergency would ever occur; given the circumstances, however, he did have a ‘sense’ that it might).  The combination of ‘imaging’ and ‘scenario planning’ can help the leader and those led prepare for the unexpected (which, as we all know, will happen).

The Leader needs to be able to foresee the unforeseeable.  In a number of his essays Greenleaf writes about developing ‘foresight.’ The ability to foresee the unforeseeable is partly rooted in one’s ability to ‘perceive’ and to ‘be open’ to possibilities and to be ‘awake and aware.’  One also develops one’s intuitive ability/capacity.  How many folks truly develop their intuitive ability and enhance their intuitive capacity?  How many trust their intuition?  The ability to foresee can also be enhanced by imaging and by scenario planning.  As Greenleaf notes there is always a gap between what we can see, what we can know, and what is unforeseen.  This gap can be ‘filled’ by an ‘intuitive leap’ (a ‘leap of faith’).

Of the three, this last one presents the most challenge for the leader; especially for the leader who is a strong when it comes to operations and is not as strong when it comes to conceptualization.  As I reflect upon it, the person who able to conceptualize is more likely to develop these three capacities.  People whose strength is ‘operations,’ and who are leaders, will do well to ensure that they surround themselves with folks whose strength is conceptual – and that they learn to utilize and trust their conceptual strength.

We become our thoughts. –Aristotle

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