While we all have pre-conceived notions about what distinguishes leaders from followers, these are not necessarily accurate or based on any scientific fact. Much of this stems from a misunderstanding of how the human mind works, particularly in relation to our retention of information and cognitive thought processes.
If you have ever seen Janet Echelman’s famous artwork, you will see a visual representation of how the human brain works. These pieces rely on subtle intersections and independencies, through which single threads are combined to create an overall visage. Similarly, the average baby’s brain contains 100 million neurons, which are capable of constructing and weaving information patterns that become increasingly complex as cognitive skills develop.
How Reflective Intelligence is Crucial in Leadership
The complexity of the human mind and the impact of environment means that concepts such as leadership and following are not fixed forever. Despite this, there is one central element in the brain which empowers leadership and leader qualities, and this the capacity for reflective intelligence. While human intelligence tends to be reflective in nature, natural leaders show a higher capacity for this and are therefore able to display far greater levels of foresight through their thoughts and actions.
Individuals who showcase high levels of reflective intelligence also have a greater survival instinct and a more innate ability to spontaneously tackle and solve problems, which are crucial leader qualities particularly in a professional environment.
While the way in which reflective intelligence manifests itself in strong leadership is clear, however, how does it work within the human mind? Essentially, reflection is an ability of the brain to consciously manipulate the information that it is provide with, enabling us to process and rehearse options prior to taking action. In the example of positive and decisive problem solving, reflective intelligence allows us to recall and process relevant information that informs our actions, leading to quick and effective resolutions.
How to Nurture Reflective Intelligence in the Human Mind
We have already touched on how our roles as leaders and followers are not set in tone, and this is supported by the fact that we all boast some level of reflective intelligence. There are also exercises that can help to develop this skill, both in ourselves, our children and those around us.
One of the first exercises is to provoke critical and creative thinking in the brain. Actively and deliberately engaging in critical thought and analysis encourages reflection, forcing you to detect the relationships that exist between objects, thoughts and actions (even those that appear to be entirely unrelated). By drawing on your knowledge and a store of information, you can challenge your thought processes before arriving at new, innovative and most importantly informed conclusions.
Leader Qualities can become second nature over time
Interestingly, you can also develop your own level of reflective intelligence by actively teaching your children and those around you. As a parent, for example, you can ask your child’s opinion on specific characters and their actions while reading them a story or watching a film. This not only sharpens your child’s level of reflective intelligence and empowers them as critical thinkers, but it also helps you to ensure that your leadership qualities quickly become second nature over time.
This is the most important thing to remember, as while we all possess natural leadership skills to some degree or another there are certain mental elements that we can develop with practice. The reflective dimension of human intelligence offers an example of this, as this needs to be consciously cultivated and exercised if it is to be developed and realised over time. You will also find that those with true leadership qualities repeat learning activities on a regular basis, as their reflective intelligence grows and its manifestations quickly become second nature over time.