The Grey Chronicles


The Right Stuff, 2

Justin Menkes: Executive Intelligence : What All Great Leaders HaveThis continues yesterday’s post regarding Justin Menkes’ 4-section 15-chapter book, Executive Intelligence, (2005). Previously, The Grey Chronicles described the cognitive abilities that top business performers possess making them different from all of us. This part tackles the book’s second section which critiques how experts have overlooked these critical abilities, flooding the market with methods and theories that are gravely inadequate when it comes to differentiating business talent.

Menkes argues:

“Cognitive ability tests have been proven to be a highly effective means for predicting work performance in virtually any profession. . . Yet nobody has attempted to first determine what makes IQ tests, however biased and flawed—in terms of race, gender, or economic background—so predictive and to build upon that understanding as the basis for a theory of business intelligence. . . ”

Menkes observed that social scientists and researchers did an about-face instead of fine-tuning intelligence testing to predict work performance. Charisma, personal gut feel and personality beliefs about leadership became the topics-of-the-day. Emotional intelligence became a sensationalized buzzword.

“The popularity of emotional intelligence and charismatic leadership, two of the most dominant leadership theories in recent years, has blinded us from seeing what really drives executive success. These concepts are the “herbal supplements” of management science.”

One of the main reasons Executive Intelligence is so rare, Menkes claims, is that the &#147aptitudes composing it are contrary to the natural tendencies of the human brain.” The rarity of Executive Intelligence is aggravated by worldly demands that we lost the distinctions in semantics, i.e., fast has become synonymous with good, and slow with bad. Menkes explains:

“When CEOs call for speed, what they are talking about is attaining the right objective as quickly as possible. A highly committed workforce can contribute countless hours of overtime running full speed toward a given target. But if that goal is ill-conceived, the result will be a costly, or even fatal, delay. ”

Henry Mintzberg, McGill University professor, the author of Nature of Managerial Work published in 1973, revealed that most managers act without thinking to do their jobs. Harvard Business School’s Daniel Isenberg reached a similar conclusion. In his 1984 Harvard Business Review article on how senior managers solve problems. . . the senior managers he studied would act first and then examine the results of their efforts. Overwhelmingly, they used trial and error to choose an approach and come up with a solution.

With these managerial scenarios, Menkes blames it on the brain. According to recent researches “the human brain is consistently, systematically illogical. . . Thus, logic would be a hopeless foundation for human intelligence.” Realizing that, a new theory explaining intelligence, called Connectionism, emerged. The theory recognizes “the brain as a collection of millions of neurons, each tied to thousands of other neurons that, as a whole, act as the brain’s knowledge base.”

Being illogical, humans are prone to poor decisions because of the following most common causes: Undue Optimism, Availability Bias, Pattern Matching, and Frames.

In their book Winning Decisions, Cornell’s J. Edward Russo and Wharton’s Paul Schoemaker, suggest that the vast majority of executives suffer from what they term Undue Optimism or Overconfidence, specifically that:

“This is not a personality trait, such as arrogance or inflated ego. Rather, it refers to the common tendency to subconsciously overestimate how much we know about a particular subject, blinding us to our lack of the crucial in-formation required to render a skilled answer. . . Overconfidence causes decision makers to jump to premature conclusions.”

In Availability Bias, we are inherently prone to assume that the most available information is also the most relevant, even when such conclusions are totally illogical. It is a natural tendency of all human beings to make instant associations and magnify information that is presented to them. But these inferences often occur before we’ve critically evaluated the facts themselves.

In Pattern Matching, we see links and patterns that do not, in fact, exist. The human mind instinctually assumes that the world is causally connected. But everything we sense is only an approximation of our reality.

In Frames, similar to the horse blinders, “these are mental accommodations that allow us to control what information we attend to and, just as important, what we filter out. Because of time constraints in the real world, a completely open mind would be paralyzed if it were forced to consider all possibilities. Instead, we are capable of focusing on only a fraction of the information available to us at any given time. . . The mind thrives on imperfect data.”


Menkes, Justin (2005). Executive Intelligence : What All Great Leaders Have. Executive Intelligence Group. New York: Perfect Bound, 2005. xx, 312pp. back to text

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