The trinity of intelligence and leadership in the workplace

By: Robyn Thompson

There are many theories about how the human brain works. One of the most enduring is the “triune brain model” which compares our brain functions to a stack of Lego starting with the oldest part (“reptilian”) at the base, followed by paleomammalian (“limbic”) and, finally, topped by the newest part in evolutionary terms, the neomammalian (“neocortex”) that is found in humans and higher animals and governs language and abstract thinking. This was developed back in the 1970s and some contemporary scientists have dismissed the idea of three distinct brains packed into just one skull.

Despite the ongoing scientific debate, I think we can all agree that we have different kinds of intelligence working together in some way. In my keynotes to organizations, I discuss the ‘trinity of intelligence’ which includes emotional, behavioral, and financial intelligence. These are the different ways leaders (and regular folks, too) navigate problems and challenges and make thoughtful decisions. Mastering these forms of intelligence determines success at individual, group, and organization levels.

Within the trinity, one of the most underrated forms is emotional intelligence. Vintage leadership models valued stoicism and flat emotional affect, with feelings and emotions kept firmly under control. Any sign of empathy or compassion from a leader was taken as a sign of weakness. As leadership models have evolved, so has our understanding of the important role emotions play in all aspects of life. Studies show that nearly 90 per cent of employees report that having an empathic leader helps them with work/life balance and that translates into organizational success as happier employees are 13 per cent more productive.

In his recent book, Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier, Arthur C. Brooks, a Harvard professor and social scientist, highlights the usefulness of feelings, especially bad feelings. What are bad feelings? I’m sure we can all come up with our own list pretty quickly but, in general, bad feelings include distress, frustration, irritability, fear, hostility, anger, guilty, shame, and so on.

What’s so great about those, you ask? According to Brooks, feelings (both good and bad) alert us to what kind of decisions and actions we need to take. The reason that bad feelings energize us more than pleasant ones has to do with human evolution. If everything is going well, there is likely no danger. On the other hand, feelings like fear or disgust force us to pay close attention to save ourselves from a predator or poisoned food.

Negative feelings can be great teachers and can help foster effective leaders because these feelings motivate us to act, not just to survive but to continue to learn, improve performance, and invent new and better ways of doing things which leads to expansion and growth.

Here are a few historical examples:

  • Mary Anderson was riding a streetcar in New York City in the winter and was frustrated at how long the trip was because the driver had to stop frequently to clear the falling snow from the windshield. While waiting, she sketched the invention of the windshield.
  • Tired of doing dishes, Josephine Cochrane invented the first automatic dishwasher and opened a factory to make it that became KitchenAid.
  • Melitta Benz wanted a good cup of coffee, and she hated the way coffee grounds stayed in her cup. She used the paper from her son’s school notebook as a filter and got a perfect cup— and a patent for her invention.
  • In each case, negative emotions of frustration, distaste, and resentment spurred these inventors, and we are the beneficiaries. Likewise, for today’s leaders, feelings are powerful tools in the toolbox which can lead to better decision-making and innovation— provided we learn how to manage them.

Emotional intelligence comes in three-part-harmony:

  • Noticing the feeling
  • An initial reaction to the feeling
  • Deciding on the action we want to take based on the feeling

So, the next time you feel bad, see it as an early detection system that something needs to be adjusted to facilitate growth, innovation, and abundance.

Notes and Disclaimer

The foregoing is for general information purposes only and is the opinion of the writer. Securities mentioned are illustrative only and carry risk of loss. No guarantee of investment performance is made or implied. It is not intended to provide specific personalized advice including, without limitation, investment, financial, legal, accounting or tax advice. Please contact the author to discuss your particular circumstances.

Content copyright © 2023 by Robyn K. Thompson. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint articles by Robyn K. Thompson, is hereby given to all print, broadcast and electronic media provided that the contact information at the end of each article is included in your publication. Organizations publishing articles electronically, a live, clickable link to must also be included with the body of the article.

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Robyn Thompson, CFP, CIM, FCSI, is the founder of Castlemark Wealth Management Inc. and wealth consultant.

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