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?
If you believe you can, or if you believe you can’t you are probably right. As a karate instructor I’ve seen the joy of taking people through the barriers of what they can’t do and come out the other side – achievement in any field is likely to encourage achievement, or belief that you can achieve, in others. As a sailability assistant instructor the joy of sharing sailing know-how with people having a range of abilities, and a range of restrictions imposed on them by others, is also deeply satisfying (and not a little fun). Without doubt, the more you put in, the more you get out. The results may not be immediate or obvious but, for the most part, they will be.
I do also think that there is a thing like physical intelligence and that it’s important to lead others. But I guess it’s more like an indirect parameter that positively changes your posture and self-confidence – which is definitely important to lead others.