Leadership and Physical Intelligence

How’s your Physical Intelligence – and how does this affect your ability to lead others?

I’ve long been interested in the idea of different types of intelligence. The developmental psychologist Howard Gardener described eight “modalities” of intelligence (which he later expanded to include two more), one of which is ‘Bodily-kinesthetic’ intelligence:

Gardner describes this as control of one’s physical movement and the capacity to handle objects skilfully. This also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses. He believes that people who have high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are generally good at physical activities such as sports, dance, acting, and making things.

Click here to see Gardner’s book on Amazon (not an affiliate link).

Whether or not you believe it’s actually an ‘Intelligence’, you’ve probably been around people who are really great at using their bodies. They can hit a tennis ball right by you without seeming to try. Or they can insert a needle into a worried patient’s arm in one easy motion. Or they can make great choices about their own physical health, in a way that sustains them really well.
What other kinds of physical intelligence or smartness have you noticed in yourself or others?

I learned from studying Emotional Intelligence, that you can think about each of your own intelligences as having two components:

First, a ‘Capacity‘. This is like the limit of your own intelligence (whether it’s Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc). For some aspects of each of those intelligences, research suggests that your capacity is fixed – that is, it can’t be increased. What you’re born with may be what you’re stuck with. For other aspects, your capacity can be increased – you can stretch the limit and develop new capacities.

Second, there’s a ‘Utilisation‘. This is how much you use your current capacity. If you want to improve your intelligence, be it Intellectual, Emotional or Physical etc, making sure you’re actually already using all that you can use is probably the best place to start.

As I get older and my body stops taking care of itself quite as automatically as it did when I was younger, I’ve become more interested in aspects of physical intelligence. I’m lucky to have a wide spread of ages and occupations and interests amongst my coaching clients, so this is something I often just get a little curious about with them. What do they do to take care of themselves physically? How does their physical being impact on their presence as a leader? Are there links for them (as the evidence seems to suggest) between their physical intelligence and their emotional resilience?

If I bring to mind a dozen or so people I know really well who I’d regard as great leaders, it seems pretty clear to me that they have a good range of several of Gardner’s Intelligence Modalities. They’re smart people and they’ve worked at that. They are good at building relationships with others and they’ve worked at that too. And they all do something to maintain or even increase the utilisation of their own physical capacity.

What’s also interesting for me, is the range of things that these leaders do to utilise their physical being. There’s all the middle-aged cyclists of course. And there are swimmers and runners and tennis players and footballers and hikers and so on. But then there are also dancers and yoga practitioners and tai-chi masters and Nia movers and Five Rhythms people. The range of things that people do to be in great relationship with their bodies is huge.

This is not just about “fitness” – although being fit certainly seems to be part of Physical Intelligence. It’s more than just that though; it’s also about being aligned with and being fully part of our physical being, our bodies, as well as our mental and emotional existence. Without that, it’s hard to be a complete person – which is another important aspect of being a great leader.

It also seems to me that people who have a good relationship with their own bodies are more confident in their dealings with others, are less likely to get hijacked by their own knee-jerk responses and are generally happier and therefore more pleasant to be around.

What’s your view? Does your physical intelligence have anything at all to do with your ability to lead others, or to be successful in your work?

What’s the key? If you believed that physical intelligence IS important to leadership and general success at work and in life, and you wanted to improve your own where should you start?

In my personal experience, it’s all too easy to make this difficult. In the past I’ve managed to fill my own attempts to get physically smarter with all kinds of unhelpful beliefs about how much ‘should’ be possible for me. Or about how I need to keep the shambolic, beginner stages private. Or I’ve even fallen into the ‘no pain, no gain’ trap!

If we reflect back on my earlier points about Capacity and Utilisation, we’re actually talking about learning new stuff here – even if, in this case, it’s our bodies that are doing the learning. And the best learning is messy, playful, gentle and spontaneous.

Is that the way to improved physical intelligence?

Progress not Perfection

8 little-known factors that could affect your ability to actually get stuff done

I heard this really useful phrase in a movie again last week: “Progress, not perfection”.

You might also have heard it before as “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” or, as Confucius put it:

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without

I’m somebody who really likes to polish and tinker with stuff until it is just right. Interestingly, my grandfather was a lapidary – someone who cuts and polishes precious stones and gems, so maybe it’s an inherited trait! Anyway, I often need to be reminded of how important it is to not let my desire for something to be ‘just right’ to actually get in the way of producing anything at all.

But it’s quite easy for people to say this kind of thing to you, without helping you implement it. I find it especially frustrating when people who aren’t that bothered about getting things right tell me that “done is better than perfect”. That’s easy to say if everything you do is a bit rubbish!

If you’re someone who likes to get things right, but also believes that it’s better to produce a flawed something than a perfect nothing, here are the major steps and questions I usually work on with my coaching clients who also share those values:

  1. What’s your definition of ‘progress’?  – get really clear about just what progress means to you, in this specific context
  2. The evidence you use to measure progress – how will you know when progress is being achieved; what will you see, hear, feel or read?
  3. The prior step – what has to happen first, or what is necessary in order for there to be any progress?
  4. Your motivation – if you were to make progress, what would that make possible? What’s in it for you?
  5. Your strategy – what are the steps, especially the first and second things you might do, that will lead to making at least some progress?
  6. Your fallback – what will you do if those first few steps don’t work?
  7. Your emotions – what kind of emotion helps you move from perfection to progress; how do you need to feel for that to happen? And what usually helps you feel that way?
  8. Your allies – who is on your side already in this? And who could be co-opted to your cause?

Face the sun

Click the image above and then right-click it to download a copy.

Creds to my friends at Inspired Lives for spotting this one – they never fail to help me choose to face the light x