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How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

There’s an untapped wealth of intelligence and capability in your company. Here’s how to access and develop it, starting now.

You say you want to grow your business. You might think about taking on more projects, increasing your revenue, maybe expanding to another location.

You may, however, be overlooking the most important area of growth you could possibly invest in – the growth of your own employees. And no, that doesn’t mean simply hiring more people.

At the 2015 NSCA Business and Leadership Conference in Tampa, Fla., Liz Wiseman presented a seminar on leadership and employee intelligence. Wiseman is president and founder of the Wiseman Group and an author of many books on leadership including Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, which BLC attendees took home courtesy of conference sponsors.

The seminar focused on how great leaders amplify the intelligence and ability of those around them. If you want to grow a business, Wiseman said, you need to grow and develop the people within that business. But what exactly is your role as their fearless leader?

Latent Intelligence

“Inside of our work teams is more intelligence than we can see with our naked eye,” said Wiseman. “There is more intelligence available to us than even most managers can see. This, essentially, is latent intelligence. In other words, latency of human capital.”

The best leaders tap into this intelligence, multiply it and apply it to strategies or dilemmas in order to grow their businesses. Other leaders may not yet realize this potential. They may lead through instruction and control, feeling that their role is to keep people in line or to be the brains of the operation.

Wiseman calls these two leadership roles Multipliers and Diminishers. Multipliers develop the intelligence of those around them, and Diminishers (knowingly or unknowingly) suppress it.

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“It has been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladsone, you left feeling he was the smartest person in the world, but after meeting with his rival Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person.”

This is a quote from Bono, inadvertently describing these two roles. What could Disraeli have done in order to boost the confidence and essentially activate the latent intelligence in the other person? And how can today’s leaders emulate that? To answer this question, we must think first about how human beings operate.

The Way We Work

Have you, as an employee, ever held back so that your manager could feel like the smartest or most capable person in the room? If so, you were operating at a mere fraction of your ability, explained Wiseman.

Similarly, if employees are overworked but underutilized – in other words, assigned to projects that are less than what they are capable of, not fully challenged, and not really listened to in the workplace – they won’t be functioning at full capacity either.

“There’s a difference between how hard you’re working and how hard your brain is working,” said Wiseman.

If you, as a leader, have ever asked yourself, ‘Why aren’t my employees stepping up?’ then you might have overworked but underutilized people on your staff. These are people who aren’t giving 100%.

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But people want to give 100%, said Wiseman. They would love nothing more than to come to work every day and give it their all. And if a person is challenged and encouraged, you could see this employee rise from giving even the bare minimum amount of work to 100% of their effort, intelligence and capability every day.

Here’s how we know this. Wiseman asked the audience about when they were up-and-coming in the industry. Did they work hard? Were they full of aspiration, motivation and drive? Why is that?

It’s because everything was challenging and new, said Wiseman. We tend to think people will do their best at an easy job, but although it seems logical, it isn’t the case. In fact, people do their best work when a job is difficult. That’s when they feel the most motivation to succeed, and when they feel the most rewarded when they accomplish the task.

“Desperation is the biggest driver to our work,” Wiseman explained.

Not only that, but newness also encourages more effort, according to Wiseman (and the members of the audience). If a project is new, people will be more engaged and try harder to tackle the job.

“At the bottom of a learning curve, ignorance can drive top performance. So when you need to problem solve, you might get more by putting a rookie on the job.”

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