Why the world needs intelligent leaders and what it takes to be one

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 May 2016

President koroma and victor foh at APC conference 30 april 2015

As the people of Sierra Leone  try to understand the reasons for the country’s poverty and poor ranking in every global performance index, the word ‘Munku’ is now being associated with, and  used to describe not only the president himself, but his entire government leadership.

In Sierra Leone – one of the poorest countries in the world, and with one of the lowest rates of literacy, the word ‘Munku’ is defined as someone who lacks intelligence.

It is a word commonly used in the vernacular Creole language to refer to a person who does not think and hasn’t got the capacity to analyse, assess and make proper judgement with positive outcome.

Many people in Sierra Leone do believe, in all sincerity, that the Koroma led government is inept and incapable of solving the myriad of basic economic, health, education and social problems facing the country today.

The popular Sierra Leonean musician – Emmerson, puts it quite succinctly in his latest dance floor hit song, about the deplorable conditions in the country, to the chagrin of ruling party media handlers and ministers: ‘Munku bos pan matches” – meaning “A fool with a box of matches can be reckless and irresponsible – blowing everything up in smoke, rather than use the matches for positive benefits that everyone in the country can enjoy – such as LIGHT from DARKNESS.’

There is little doubt the problems facing the people of Sierra Leone is caused by poor leadership, as well as rampant corruption and the lack of critical mass of human resource at the top of government departments, to plan, deliver and monitor development programmes, as well as manage their respective ministries and agencies effectively.

But many writers on the subject of leadership, associate good leadership with high intelligence, especially emotional intelligence.

The question therefore for the people of Sierra Leone – where 80% of the population live below the poverty line, and most people are surviving on less that $1 a day, despite an abundance of diamonds, gold, rutile, and many more, is whether the president and his government leadership lack intelligence; or are they simply pathologically corrupt and thoughtless? What does it take for a leader to be described as intelligent?

This is what professor Theo Veldsman Writes in theConversation.Com today:  

The world today is characterised by increasing variety, interdependency and connectivity; complexity, change, ambiguity, seamlessness and sustainability. There’s no doubt that more intelligent leaders are needed to deal with these emerging challenges and demands.

But the world is relentlessly fast and dynamic. This means that leaders face a real risk of becoming merely the sum total of unreflected, undigested, constantly and rapidly accumulating experiences and information.

There’s too little time for reflective living – the sort that provides sufficient ‘quiet time’ so intelligent leaders can constantly transform experiences into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom.

Intelligence (from the Latin ‘to understand’) refers to leaders who can observe, think, judge, act, learn and reflect with a growing understanding as they engage – conceptually and practically – with the world. Larry Page, who brought the web to the world through Google, is an example.

The total ‘intelligence’ (or meta-intelligence) of an excellent leader is made up of five interdependent intelligence modes. These are:

  • Intra- and interpersonal intelligence: leaders who have an authentic identity;
  • Systemic intelligence: leaders who have a big picture of how the world works in terms of real time, dynamic patterns;
  • Ideation intelligence: leaders who can visualise inspiring new, boundary busting dreams and legacies as a means to bring desired futures into being;
  • Action intelligence: leaders who can bring about lasting, meaningful change on a large scale; and
  • Contextual intelligence: leaders are able at all times to be optimally matched to their context, using the right interpretive framework to engage with it.

Intra-personal and interpersonal intelligence

Self-insight is the crux here. Intra-and interpersonal intelligence – including emotional intelligence – centres around the degree to which my identity as a leader has crystalised and I have become a person in my own right.

I know who and what I am as a leader; what my strengths and weaknesses are. I know what I stand for. I know my impact on others and their impact on me. This intelligence is the anchor and starting point for each of the others.

But more important than having a crystallised identity is that my identity is infused with authenticity. Having an authentic identity is the highest form of this intelligence. It relates to having a sense of being true to myself as a leader.

It means being genuine in terms of my understanding and acceptance of who I am and wish to be as a person, the ‘real’ me. This gives my life as a leader meaning and makes it meaningful.

True authenticity infuses my crystallised identity with confidence, humility, integrity and empathy. It forms the basis of being a true people-centric leader.

One prime example of a leader who characterised this interpersonal intelligence was South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who dismantled the country’s legacy of apartheid and fostered racial reconciliation.

Another is Anne Frank, a German-born diarist and writer in hiding from the Nazis during World War 2. She wrote the famous Anne’s Diary appealing to our shared humanity.

Systemic intelligence

Systemic (including cognitive) intelligence entails leadership mastery at crafting a real time, integrated and dynamic understanding of how the emerging world works within the leader’s operating arena. Put differently, it is a ‘working theory’ of the leader’s operating arena against the backdrop of the emerging world order as sketched in the introduction.

This theory is used by the leader as a ‘Google map’ to chart and travel in their operating arena. This understanding is expressed as a constructed dynamic pattern of how the world functions, whether as a vicious or virtuous cycle.

The pattern in force is informed by a limited set of underlying governance rules that have been uncovered.

High systemic intelligence implies that the leader is able to generate new insights that enable them to change existing patterns or bring new patterns into being.

A good example is Jan Smuts who played a significant founding role in bringing about the League of Nations and United Nations after World War 1 and World War 2 respectively.

Ideation intelligence

The crux of this intelligence is imagining. Ideation (including spiritual) intelligence encompasses the leadership mastery of having limitless dreams about what the world can, may and should be. It is about idealising a better future and enriched sense of ultimate purpose for all people.

This intelligence entails a leader becoming masterful at dreaming in their search to make the world a better place for current and upcoming generations. This can range from how to make the existing better, to how to add something new, through to how to change what exists into something different and better. Ultimately it is about how to bring the completely new into being.

Action intelligence

The crux of this intelligence is navigation into the future to make desired dreams a reality. Action intelligence encompasses the leadership mastery of bringing about lasting, meaningful change on a large scale. Desired futures resulting from imaging dreams must be turned into action through affecting real, genuine change.

Traditional change management is premised on linearity and predictability. It is no longer good enough in the emerging world order. In the emerging world order change takes on pervasive, radical, fundamental and chaotic features. It is non-linear in nature. It’s highly unpredictable in its outcome.

Under these conditions the action intelligent leader needs to adopt a reflective, real time action learning process to create lasting, meaningful change. This process is made up of successive cycles of:

  • exploration,
  • discovery,
  • application, and
  • learning/reflection.

Mahatma Ghandi who pursued India’s independence; Malala Yousafzaiwho stood up against the Taliban for women’s rights; and Ché Guevara as instigator of the South American and Cuban revolutions, are examples of leaders who characterise this type of intelligence.

Contextual intelligence

The crux of this intelligence is fit. Contextual (including cultural) intelligence pertains to ensuring on an ongoing basis of a dynamic, optimal match between the leader and his/ her context as delineated by the operating arena of their organisation.

This requires on the one hand in depth insight into the leadership challenges and demands of their operating arena, currently and going into the future. On the other hand it requires matching a leader’s requirements and profiles.

Critical to this fit is the adoption of an appropriate interpretive framework. It requires a certain way of seeing and dealing with the world to have a constructive contextual engagement with the emerging world.

A leader with high contextual intelligence understands that they need the ‘right set of glasses’ to look at the context made up of:

  • an explicitly adopted world view: the right understanding of the nature and dynamics of the world they are engaging with;
  • the decision-making framework they use: how to recognise situations for what they are, and then to make the right decisions; and
  • the value orientation they have adopted: what is important, rightful and desirable.

How to get there

Two crucial questions come to the fore for leaders wanting to be fit for the emerging world. First, does each leader know what his or her level of meta-level intelligence is? Second, does each leader have a plan of action on how to nurture and grow their intelligence?

About the author

Theo Veldsman is a professor and Head of  Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management at the University of Johannesburg.


  1. Awareness, a sound IQ level combined with strong personality trait, the dedication and devotion to put to action ones dream and conviction, are some of the basic ingredients that should characterized an individual to be seen as a leader.
    A leader shouldn’t be perceived as weak, indulgent and passive in character – leaders must be prepared at all times to face challenges of any magnitude and to stand up to the test.
    Generally, Sierra Leoneans capital error is that we bear the tendency to choose weak, cool, and indulgent personalities as leaders, who cannot exercise command and control in our social spheres – easy to be manipulated by others.
    And as such, we cannot say our political leaders of post independence possess any of the various intelligence referred to by the author. The testimony is that, all of them had failed the nation.

  2. Finally! someone nailed the problem on the head. Lack of intelligence and awareness is the fundamental problem.

    There is an old saying: ” In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king”. The leaders are not very far off from the people that elected them.

    However, I think Sierra Leoneans are evolving and waking up. Progress will come, but my gosh it may just not be this century.

  3. Alusine Fallay:

    Sierra Leone, specifically Freetown, had traffic lights and was able to successfully host the OAU conference meeting in 1980 with ministerial black benzes everywhere. But, see where the capital city is today without street lights, drinking water, trash dumped in gutters, etc. What a shame!

    Anyway, President “Dr.” Siaka Stevens did attend the Ruskin College in Oxford, England. And President “Dr.” JS Momoh had his military training in the Nigerian Military Academy, and was chosen as the best cadet in the course in 1962. In 1963, he attended the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England, where he was chosen the best overseas cadet. See his bibliography to verify this piece of information.

    I don’t know for President Ernest Koroma, who makes very terrible grammatical mistakes in the Queens Language such as: have “went” through… in his 53-minute speech at the University of Notre Dame, USA.

    Please take a look at it in Youtube: “Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone Speaks at Notre Dame.”

    President Koroma: Have “gone” is correct, and not have “went.” Know that “went” is the past tense of to go. It never takes an auxiliary verb. You could ask your English Teacher on this. Thank you very much.

  4. Other than the late Sir Milton Margai, late Prime Minister Albert Margai and late President Tejan Kabba, the APC Leadership (Late President Stevens, Late President Momoh and current President Earnest Bai Koroma) never lived or studied abroad. So they never experienced what living a good life meant.

    It is unfortunate that the APC government is considering amenities like light, water and roads as achievements. These are basic necessities just as air is to life for human existence. In order to get to your shelter, plantations or farms to harvest food for your citizens you need good roads to achieve those basic necessities of life.

    Compared to leaders like Nelson Mandela, Kwame N’kruma, Leopold Senghor, President Boigny to name but a few and may their souls rest in peace, they lived or studied abroad. So they tried to envision that type of life for their countries and citizens and you can realize it when you visit those countries.

    I confirm Sierra Leone was rapidly becoming a MUNKU NATION under the APC. When ever there was light in Freetown the whole city was just shocked and amazed that you will hear a loud and spontaneous outburst from the Freetownians in creole – “LIGHT DON CAM” which means we are shocked to finally see light in the capital city.

    I also confirm that I came from a MUNKU NATION (thanks to the APC ). When l arrived in Monrovia and Conakry (1986) I was surprised to see news on Television and 24hrs light, as it’s rather unfair from my perspective to compare Freetown to major cities in Europe or the USA.

    The Voting block of the APC only base their judgment on tribe, looks or charisma rather than Intellectual capacity and the APC also continued to make this nation a MUNKU NATION due to their reluctant to pay attention to education which is the foundation for future development or CIVILIZED NATION.

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