It’s About Courage: How to Exercise Leadership Intelligence


I addressed leadership presence in my last blog, the first part of the Army’s BE-KNOW-DO motto. The second part, KNOW, is about your conceptual abilities; leadership intelligence.

Once again, in the Army we learned of five components affecting leadership intelligence and each has the potential for a future, separate blog. One was interpersonal tact, which is what I call our emotional intelligence training.

For me, this amounted to knowing and understanding the motives and perceptions of your team members and using this information to lead.

Your conceptual abilities involve considering everything you’ve learned, the theoretical and abstract, as well as practical and personal experiences, to reach your decision. Some might see it simply as applying common sense. I’d like to illustrate via a personal story.


Leadership Intelligence

Why am I Doing This?

The 2001-2002 school year was the second year of my battalion command, running the leadership development program (ROTC) at two Boston universities: Northeastern University and Boston College.

During my first year, I followed the typical work schedule, which was to start Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6 a.m. with physical (fitness) training (PT). On Tuesday and Thursday, we could “sleep in” and start at 8 a.m.

I’d never worked in a major metropolitan area and soon discovered it was much, much more stressful getting to work on Tu and Th. I didn’t like spending the time in traffic, and surely, my staff didn’t appreciate it either.

I asked myself, why am I doing this?

Leadership Courage

In my multiple assignments and locations during the previous 16 years, that was the work schedule I knew and experienced. But, this didn’t make sense to me.  Certainly, not in this environment. I was the senior person and we were the only Army presence on either campus. I was in charge.

The only reason I could conclude for keeping this work schedule: I was conforming to what I knew. Maybe I wondered what my boss, who was more than an hour away, would think.

This took me longer than I care to admit, but I changed our work schedule policy. It was as simple as this…

… moving forward, my only expectation is that you are present for scheduled meetings, including PT, and you get your job done. Each of you has responsibilities, and it won’t matter to me if it takes you 4 hours or 14, as long as you get your job done. As for me, I will not fight traffic on Tuesdays and Thursdays anymore. I plan to work from home these mornings and arrive after rush hour, so expect to see me at 10.

You might conclude: that was an easy decision. But, it wasn’t so obvious to me, at first. My leadership challenge was not how logical my approach might appear. I was considering our culture, and, real or perceived, the mindset of my boss.

The real issue was whether I had the leadership courage to go against inertia, change the work schedule, and respond to any concerns my boss might have. I’m sure you’ve seen the studies of the worst commutes where people spend almost two full weeks of their life, each year, sitting in traffic. Boston was in the top 10!

I was feeling the commute pain, and I knew that it impacted my team.  In the end, this was never a concern for my boss, and I should havemade the decision sooner.

Leadership Intelligence

I suggested that leadership intelligence is about knowing and understanding the motives and perceptions of your team, and using this information to lead more effectively.

More important, it involves considering everything you’ve learned, and having the leadership courage to make the best decision for your organization: your team, and its mission.

“… leaders who are willing to go… where the conditions are the most severe, (demonstrate) through their presence that they care.” — FM 6-22, Army Leadership

You may have a similar situation where logically, you know the right answer, but you may be hesitating as I did.  I hope this leadership blog helps you make your decision sooner than I did.

My last blog was about presence, this one about intelligence, and the next time, to round out the Army’s BE-KNOW-DO motto, it will be about leadership character.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net