Strategic Intelligence: What Saves Narcissistic Leaders

According to Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, visionary leaders succeed because they have mastered five elements of strategic intelligence:

  1. Foresight
  2. Systems thinking
  3. Visioning
  4. Motivating
  5. Partnering


This is a key leadership competency. Any coherent view of strategy involves thinking about the future. Leaders anticipate how current movements, ideas and forces will play out in the short and long terms. They can identify evolving products, services, technology systems, global gaps, competitors, and customer needs and values. (Image:

Foresight is more complex than extrapolating today’s market into the future. The dot-com boom and bust between 1995 and 2000 is a perfect example of the difference between foresight and extrapolation. Back then, aspiring entrepreneurs came up with ways to make it big on the Internet. They asked, “How do I capitalize on what already exists?”

Foresight would have required them to ask, “How do we capitalize on what doesn’t exist now but will in the future?” It’s not about linear thinking. Leaders must connect the dots among many interdependent forces and determine how they will coalesce. Foresight requires systems thinking.

Systems Thinking

Visionary leaders understand how disparate parts influence the whole. They synthesize and integrate various elements to build and maintain healthy systems.

Those who want to lead companies in new directions must have competency in systems thinking. But just as important are the other interdependent elements of strategic intelligence. All five elements create a strategically intelligent leader.


Foresight and systems thinking are pure intelligence skills. The other components of strategic intelligence—visioning, motivating and partnering—are real-world skills, sometimes referred to as “street smarts.” Unforeseen events, people’s quirks and qualities, messy interactions with other companies and a volatile economic climate make business success a complex affair.

Visioning combines foresight and systems thinking into a realistic view of business goals. In some companies (IBM, GE), visionary leaders have had the foresight to shift from selling products to selling solutions in a knowledge/service economy.

A focus on learning ensures that visioning evolves with the times. Yet, even the clearest vision can fail if a leader lacks the skills to motivate. My next post describes what’s needed to excel in motivating and partnering.

I think many professionals have the requisite strengths for strategic intelligence. Some more than others. Some high potential leaders need coaching to develop these areas to make them accessible. If you’d like to develop your leadership potential and strategic intelligence, and have questions about executive coaching,  contact me here.

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