Unlocking Leadership Potential: Integrating Head, Heart, and Gut Intelligences

Khali Young

Khali Young

Khali Young

Author

Image from here.

Introduction:

Leadership is a multifaceted journey that demands a blend of competencies across various intelligences. In our quest to become effective leaders, it's crucial to recognize and develop these diverse facets of intelligence and cross train them. I asked ChatGPT to summarise the different leadership intelligences and this is the list I got back: Emotional Intelligence (EI), Social Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence (CQ), Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), Intrapersonal Intelligence, Intuitive Intelligence, Ethical Intelligence, Adaptive Intelligence. I think this is a pretty good list but it's a bit bewildering to consider how to develop all of these intelligences! Looking at leadership in terms of our 3 brains - head, heart and guts - is a nice way to keep the competencies of leadership simple and also works really well as we can draw on the biological basis of these competencies

In this post, we'll explore the concept of head, heart, and gut intelligences and how they shape our leadership abilities. At a basic level we could say that the head is our centre of thinking, the heart our centre of feeling, and the gut our centre of doing. The book "mBraining - using your multiple brains to do cool stuff" is a great book exploring these different intelligences. Let's look at quotes from this book and unpack more about each of these brains in leadership

Understanding Head Intelligence:


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"In many ways the prime functions of the head brain are obvious, they involve the mental cognitive functions of logical thinking and include the processes of reasoning, perception and how we make meaning. Thought processes involve mental imagery, language expression, abstraction and symbol manipulation. The main job of the head is to intellectually make sense of the world and to provide executive control." - mBraining

The head is the centre of our thinking. IQ is most associated with head intelligence, however thinking effectively is more than IQ. Edward De Bono, the late master thinker, compares IQ to the size of an engine of a car. More important than this though, is our ability to drive the car effectively to where we want to go. This is what thinking skills are about. De Bono describes thinking skills as are largely about directing attention. The development of our cognitive attention requires training, so that we can sustain it and know how to direct it. For example strategy requires a broader attention to consider the big picture whereas tactics requires a more narrow attention on the detail of the day to day. I also think that the use of the imagination, to be able to mentally workshop scenarios and run thought experiments is key to good head intelligence.


Exploring Heart Intelligence:


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"The heart is the seat of love and desires, goals, dreams and values. When you are connected to something you feel it and value it in your heart. When you hear that someone ‘wears their heart on their sleeve’ you intuitively know that this does NOT mean that they are too logical. Instead, this is saying that they show their emotions, desires and intentions too obviously and readily. If you say something is heartfelt, you aren’t saying it’s intellectually concise. And when you look at the language patterns of the heart, they express notions of love, connection, kindness and their converse. The prime functions of the heart intelligence involve salience, affection and relational issues such as a deep sense of moral rightness as compared to rule based ethics." - mBraining

The heart is the centre of our feelings. Our heart intelligence largely determines our EQ and our ability to relate effectively to ourselves and others. Our heart let's us know what is important to us ie what our values are. It is through the heart that we connect, and knowing how to connect with ourselves and others is the basis of leadership. While all of our brains are important, I consider the heart the most important for this reason. Without heart, we lack a clear compass. Heart is what is most missing and needed in the business world. We must learn the language of our emotions and how they communicate to us what is important to us. Emotions are nuanced. There are often multiple emotions occurring simultaneously. Emotions can be quiet and we don't even realise we are feeling them. Karla McLaren's work on the Language of Emotions is a great resource here.


Unveiling Gut Intelligence:


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"Due to its evolutionary history, the gut brain is responsible at a core level for determining what will be assimilated into self and excreted from self. It must determine what is required to maintain health and wellness in the system and decide whether molecules ingested into the stomach will be absorbed or excreted. Indeed, research has shown that more than 80 percent of our immune cells are located in the gut, and the enteric brain is intimately involved in managing immune function. The prime functions of the gut are around protection, self-preservation, core identity and motility. Back when evolution was at the stage of complexity of sea cucumbers and worms, organisms only had a neural processing system of an enteric brain. This intelligence was used to detect threats and food in the environment and move away from danger and towards food. The gut brain maintains boundary detection and mobilization. In humans it is expressed as motivation, gutsy courage and a gut-felt desire to take action (or not)." - mBraining

The gut is the centre of our creativity and doing. It is absolutely essential to good leadership. Our ability to have gravitas and a presence of command comes from the gut. Our ability to have and work with boundaries and power dynamics rests in the gut. We regulate ourselves emotionally hugely from the gut, via the vagus nerve. Our gut is the centre of our body based intelligence which is instinctual and knows things before the head brain does, as people like Antonia Demasio has shown in his research. I am a big fan of embodiment based approaches to leadership development (eg here) to develop our gut intelligence. This video is an example of this.


The problem with partial brained leadership

Our culture prioritizes head intelligence, often neglecting the development of heart and gut intelligences. Traditional leadership programs focus heavily on theoretical knowledge, overlooking practical training and emotional and body intelligences. Consequently, gaps in heart intelligence lead to disengagement, while gaps in gut intelligence hinder innovation and risk-taking.

A deficiency in heart intelligence results in a lack of empathy and emotional connection, fostering disengagement within organizations. Similarly, gaps in gut intelligence can impede adaptability and innovation as leaders shy away from risk-taking. These problems are rife in organisations. Addressing these challenges requires a holistic approach that cultivates emotional (heart) and body (gut) intelligence alongside cognitive abilities.


A Simple Way to Start Activating Your 3 Brains

A simple starting point to activate each of these intelligences is by putting your attention in that region of your body and asking what it thinks. For instance, when tapping into your head intelligence, take a moment to focus on your head, and inquire about the logical perspective on a particular issue or decision. Similarly, for heart intelligence, direct your attention to your heart space and inquire about the emotions and values associated with the situation. Lastly, for gut intelligence, bring your awareness to your gut region and ask about the instinctual response or gut feeling towards the matter at hand.

Example:

Imagine you're faced with a challenging decision at work: whether to pursue a new project that aligns with your company's goals but requires considerable risk. To activate your head intelligence, close your eyes, and bring your attention to your head. Ask yourself: "What are the logical pros and cons of embarking on this project? How does it align with our strategic objectives?"

Next, shift your focus to your heart space. Take a few deep breaths and ask: "How do I feel about this project? Does it resonate with my values and aspirations? What emotions arise when I envision its success or failure?"

Finally, tune into your gut region. Notice any sensations or intuitive nudges as you ask: "What is my gut telling me about this opportunity? Do I sense excitement and alignment, or hesitation and unease? Trusting my gut, what decision feels most congruent with my instincts and intuition?"

By engaging with each intelligence and honouring the insights they offer, you can make more informed and integrated decisions that honour your holistic wisdom.

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