Crystallized and Fluid Intelligence

I recently presented a workshop on intergenerational communication in the workplace; where I talked about various communication styles and how the generations could work better together by understanding their similarities and differences.

In retrospect, one thing I could have included was a discussion of the role of crystallized versus fluid intelligence (as originally proposed by psychologist Raymond Cattell). I didn’t, however, and so here’s as good a place as any to mention it…

If the terms crystallized and fluid intelligence aren’t familiar to you, here’s the idea: the former refers to accumulated knowledge gained from previous learning and experiences. The latter involves abstract reasoning and the ability to problem-solve novel situations. As we age, our crystallized intelligence increases as we experience and learn more things; but our fluid intelligence decreases.

In an environment where different generations are working together we can use this knowledge to our advantage. For example, the older members of the team could provide information about the historical context of a problem (i.e., how it came to be; what has and hasn’t worked in the past) etc.; while the younger members could use this knowledge to brainstorm new and creative solutions (while not having to reinvent the wheel.) In other words, both groups can bring the best of their brain-power to the table; working together to develop creative and progressive solutions based on sound principles and time-honored wisdom.

There is lots of information to be found about generational differences; but not as much about how these differences can be acknowledged, celebrated, and used in a productive way. It’s definitely an area worth paying attention to as people continue to work longer while the younger generations are entering the workforce.

How to Make Good Decisions

If you’re thinking about how to make good decisions in your life, you might want to explore some strategic planning models.

Truth be told, I don’t know a lot about strategic planning – but the one thing that’s always stuck with me is this: “The cardinal rule is to take the path that allows you to change course if your initial decision proves wrong”.

This is a very powerful statement I think, as it speaks to being proactive and thoughtful about our choices. Many of us (including myself for many years) are too passive about the decisions we make that determine where we end up. Granted, there’s something to be said for “going with the flow”, or trusting the idea that things will work out the way they should. But the problem is that when we take the time to reflect on our lives, we see that things don’t always turn out the way we had hoped they would.

They say that hindsight is 20-20, and unfortunately the choices we could have made are much clearer than the decisions we’re faced with at present. But if you believe that every little choice can alter the events of our lives in some way, you’ll agree that as hard as it is sometimes it would probably pay to be more deliberate with our decisions.

Whenever we’re faced with a set of circumstances that demands a decision between two or more courses of action, the first thing we need to do is get out of our own way. In other words, we need to truthfully examine our own anxieties, assumptions, and self-imposed limitations, and toss them aside. Decisions are easy to make if they’re based on fear: we simply choose the easy way out to avoid any discomfort. But this most often isn’t the best decision in the long run.

The second thing we need to do is examine the realities of the situation: “What’s really possible?” “What’s really the potential impact of this decision over the other?”

Then when we see a situation as clearly as we can, reasonably free from the clouds of subjectivity, we can return to the cardinal rule of strategic planning: “If I make this decision and it doesn’t go so well, how difficult would it be to course-correct and choose a different path?” Of course following this logic doesn’t automatically guarantee success – but if we do need to shift gears, we end up saving a lot of precious time and effort by having thought it through the first time around.

Career Satisfaction

For those of us who work for a living, for ourselves or for someone else, career satisfaction is something we’d most definitely like to achieve. And career satisfaction is certainly an achievable goal – but it’s important that the term “satisfaction” be defined correctly for each one of us.

In other words, if you want career satisfaction, you first need to identify what this really means to you. There is no empirical right or wrong: however you define career satisfaction is up to you. As long as it’s done honestly, is what’s right for you.

For example, do you equate career satisfaction with complete happiness in every way, shape, and form? Or would you be happy to make X amount of dollars despite the actual work you do – i.e., would it be worth the grind in order to be able to live the lifestyle you want to live?

Does career satisfaction mean that you would actually enjoy going to your job every day? Does it mean that you have good relationships at work? Does it mean that you receive a sense of fulfillment and contribution through your work?

Chances are, being happy in your career means a combination of the things listed above; in addition to other factors that only you can identify.

If you expect complete utopia in your career, for example, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. But on the other hand, maybe not: there are people who love every aspect of their career because that’s how they’ve decided to approach their lives and work. They try to always take the good with the bad, and they try to see opportunity in adversity. They always look for the silver lining in discouraging situations; and they’re able to identify and be grateful for the lessons learned.

Others love their career because they’ve taken the time to be clear on what they value and what they need from their work; as well as what they will and will not tolerate. They’ve carved out their work environments in response to this awareness.

So, yes, career satisfaction is an achievable goal. But only you know what you’re capable of creating for yourself in response to your own self-worth, clarity, ability, and desire; and to the reality of the opportunities and obstacles in your environment. It’s up to you to define your happiness, and it’s up to you to go after it!

Your Leadership Development Plan

If you want to be a strong leader in any capacity, it would be wise to start crafting your leadership development plan.

Where do you want to be a better leader? Perhaps it’s at home with your kids. Or maybe you’re looking for a promotion at work. Or maybe you just want to be a stronger role model in your community… Wherever you want to be a leader, you can – as long as you’ve got the passion as well as the ability to reflect, learn, and grow.

Your leadership development plan begins with an assessment of who you are and who you want to be. When targeting areas for this step, try to just pick two or three to start with. Some actions we take will have a more broader-reaching impact, and will accelerate our growth more quickly than others. Choose a couple of areas that you really feel are priorities. You can always add on to the list and increase the complexity of your plan later.

As possible goal areas, consider any and all ideas that come to you through your ongoing self-reflection. And think about where you can begin to practice your leadership skills: what non-threatening situations can you identify to practice on a small scale? – It’s really about flexing the muscles and developing smaller habits that lead to new ways of being.

Also be creative when thinking about the supports you need to help with your leadership growth. Perhaps a manager or mentor can help create leadership opportunities for you. Maybe there’s a training course you can sign up for at work or in your community…

Remember that it’s important to be flexible in your thinking when creating and acting on your leadership development plan. In order to grow, we need to do some things differently than we have in the past!

Here are a few quotes I like to serve as food for thought in this regard:


“He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’” – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso

“It takes a habit to replace a habit.” – Napoleon Hill


Here are some questions to get started. Answer them in as much detail as you can, and take as much time as necessary to make them clear and actionable:


What do you see as your major strengths?

What do you see as your areas for growth?

Which skills related to your leadership is it most important for you to develop?

In what ways can you apply your strengths to more areas of your work and life?

How can you strengthen the weaknesses you identified?

What resources do you need to strengthen these skills?

How will you know when you are successful?


All of these questions are equally important, and they’re not easy to answer. They take a great deal of time and reflection, and they require complete honesty and candor. You will also need to revisit them regularly, and ask as many people as you can to answer them for you as well – and be prepared and willing to hear their answers.

Also take the time to revisit the last question until you have a crystal-clear answer: we can’t get to where we’re going until we know exactly where it is we’re headed!

Common Mistakes in Leadership and Relationships

Leadership skills and relationship development are two of the biggest themes I see in my coaching practice. This article is about two of the most common mistakes (and remedies) I see in these areas:

A common mistake I see with new leaders is that they too often try to jump in too quickly without establishing a solid framework for who they want to be as leaders and what they want to accomplish (and why they want to accomplish it). Too often the new leader will try to assert his or her authority too quickly; changing systems and delegating tasks without really thinking it through. This often sets up power-struggles and/or sets the leader’s reputation on shaky grounds.

On the contrary, I’ve noticed that exceptionally good leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They also take the time to observe – to really understand the past and present workings of their environment, and to understand the explicit and implicit lines of influence and sub-cultures that have evolved over time.

So the first step to being a good leader is exploration. Take the time to engage in some solid self-reflection; and then slow down and observe – asking more questions and giving fewer answers.

A common mistake I see in relationships is when people hold all of their hopes on the other person changing. But blaming the other person (no matter how justly so), and holding out for them to change, just doesn’t help.

So the important first step is to really be clear on what relationships you want to build or improve upon, and why: develop compelling reasons for why you want this to work – and keep these in mind so that you can persevere with things get tough.

The next step is to really empathize and understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with their logic, but you do need to understand their unique perspective if you want to move forward with them. Understand non-judgmentally how they came to they see things as they do, and then you can work together to start bridging the gaps. (Also develop the perspective together that people themselves are not the problem: it’s the relationship itself that needs your focus).

So in any type of relationship, as a leader or otherwise, always keep in mind that the most successful people are the ones who first do their own self-work. They question their own motives, understandings, skills, and abilities – and they take the time to discover what is and what could be before charging ahead!

Always Question Your Leadership

There are many different styles of leadership with varying degrees of effectiveness. A people-centered approach is probably best in general; but only if partnered with sound knowledge and skill, and delivered in an authoritative style (a strong focus on relationship with the ability to appropriately set limits and apply corrective action).

I’m currently coaching someone I consider to be one of the best leaders with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work. I don’t know if she actually knows that she’s as good as she is: she’s relatively new to her position and has lots of questions and doubts about her style. But this type of questioning is common and expected for a new leader, and I fully expect her confidence to rise steadily with experience. I also sincerely hope, though, that she never loses the habit of self-reflection.

I’ve always had the impression that this woman is a strong leader, despite some of her doubts in specific areas. It was when I reviewed the 360 degree feedback from her team, though, that I realized how much of a star she really is. She has mastered that difficult balance between people skills and technical skill; between relationship development and task orientation. She is truly an authoritative leader who knows what she’s doing.

On the contrary, I’m also aware of leaders who appear oblivious to the fact that they’re not particularly great at the people side of things. They may be good at the technical aspects of their jobs, but they tend to rub others the wrong way. They are often closed to others’ ideas and they have difficulty sharing credit.

I think this happens for different reasons: they might be aware of their shortcomings but don’t particularly care; they may be aware of their shortcomings but don’t have the skills to change; or they might actually believe this style is effective. My guess, also, is that these types of leaders are often (but not always) masking a deeper sense of insecurity with an authoritarian style of interaction. Regardless of the reasons for the authoritarian style of leadership, it’s clear that these leaders don’t – at least actively and openly – question their leadership.

We might not all possess the leadership finesse of my client, but we can always continue to grow when we’re willing to engage in honest self-reflection. I believe that my client is a natural leader to a great degree – but I also believe that she’s as strong as she is because she questions herself.

It becomes increasingly difficult to question ourselves as our confidence and competence grows: self-reflection is often done in response to self-doubt and fear of failure. But to be effective leaders we need to reclaim and hold the assumption that we can always be better.

How To Be More Influential

Are you in a position to influence others – at work, at home, in your community? Is having influence important to your position or cause (as a manager, or a parent, or as someone with a vision who’s trying to create something better)? Do the ways in which you exert your influence tend to work well; and do you know how to be more influential?

The ability to influence is a wonderful tool that can be strengthened and refined. To do so begins with an understanding of where our power lies – and to what degree it matches the situation. When we understand where our power comes from, we can learn to use it more effectively and in the most appropriate way – thereby improving the breadth and scope of our influence.

Management and psychology textbooks often describe French and Raven’s five distinct types of power: Legitimate, Reward, Coercive, Expert, and Referent. Look at what these mean to you – particularly in regard to how you can develop and combine them to match your environment and your goals…

Do you have legitimate power – i.e., are you in a position of authority? How strong is your legitimate power? If you’re a high-ranking officer in the military, for example, you might not concern yourself much with the other bases of power. People listen. Period. If you’re the boss at work, how much legitimate influence you have depends on things like the level of authority you actually hold, and what type of people you lead in which type of environment. At home, the rationale “because I’m the mom” may or may not fly depending on many different factors.

Understanding your own leadership preferences and being open to experimentation, assessing your true level of legitimate power, defining clearly the goals you wish to accomplish, and knowing your audience are all critical components of effective leadership. Here are some other things we might think about in regard to the bases of power:

How much rewarding might you need to do to improve motivation or maintain a desired level of behaviour? What types of rewards will work best? (Everyone has different motivators, so the best thing to do is ask). We also know that offering rewards consistently and regularly helps to shape a desired behaviour, and that rewarding intermittently helps to maintain it.

Do you ever engage in a coercive style of leadership when it’s not absolutely necessary (like necessarily forcing a child to comply when his safety is at risk, for example)? Forcing others to do things through the use of threats may work sometimes, but it’s also clearly not the socially acceptable thing to do – and it might end up backfiring in the form of disloyalty or revolt.

How could you build a stronger leadership presence by developing your expertise – by sharpening the skills and knowledge important to your area of leadership? And, conversely, if you lead solely because you’re the expert, could you be mindful to draw upon other sources as well (i.e., making better use of the principles of reward and motivation; developing your ‘soft skills’ to improve your interpersonal attractiveness)?

Developing your ‘soft skills’ and interpersonal effectiveness speaks to the referent base of power (having influence because people like you, or want to be like you). Legitimate power may be inherent in your role; you may understand the principles of reward and motivation; you may be able to take command when needed; and you likely possess some high-level skills and knowledge. But the effectiveness of all of these can be greatly undermined without some attention to referent power.

Granted, we don’t all have that level of ‘charisma’ that draws others toward us like a magnet – but there’s always something more we can improve upon. While staying true to ourselves (because no one is attracted to insincerity), could we learn to be even more outgoing, friendlier, and more dynamic in a wider variety of circumstances with a wider range of people?

Try paying more attention to these five bases of power, and contemplate how they affect your ability to influence. Take the time to develop them, and learn to draw on them in a wider range of settings and situations. Leverage them to more effectively accomplish your goals and experience higher levels of success!

Affording the Right Level of Autonomy

How much autonomy is appropriate to give? Empowering our children, employees, or anyone we’re leading is, we know, the best way to improve satisfaction, motivation, and commitment – but it also takes the right style and balance to pull it off successfully.

Do you tend to micromanage others: monitoring even the most routine tasks to ensure success (even if it’s done in the most gentle, people-friendly way)? Or do you allow others to express their creativity, make their own decisions, and learn from trial and error? Or do you do a bit of both, depending on the person and circumstance?

Chances are your answer is the latter: that’s what most of tend to do as leaders, and it’s probably the right thing. This is where our intuition comes in: we adjust our style based on what we see, what we know, and how we feel – as well as how we perceive the weight and probability of the potential outcomes.

But we all know people who micromanage when it’s unnecessary, as well as those who tend to give full rein when it might be inappropriate to do so.

So why might we micromanage when it’s not necessary? Often times it’s because we haven’t learned to trust – or because we don’t feel we can handle the stress inherent in ‘letting go’. And why might we give unbridled freedom when it may not be appropriate? It’s usually because we have blind spots: because we have too much faith either in others’ abilities to respond adaptively; or in the system or task itself to provide the structures and cues to keep behaviours in check.

Whether our belief system generally supports a more or less autocratic, participative, or free-rein style of leadership is largely a matter of personality and habit: preferred and comfortable ways of leading based upon our past experiences – either directly or through observation – and the interpretations we’ve made about those experiences.

The truth is that what’s needed in any given situation is more objective than subjective. It’s the interplay between the complexity and characteristics of the task itself, and the interpersonal styles, habits, and skills of the people we’re leading. The key is to observe these dynamics in play before jumping to an automatic style of leading the situation and players.

If we learn to provide more ‘management’ where it is needed, and to back off where we should, we allow others to experience increased feelings of efficacy and success – which strengthen the internal reward system that fosters motivation. Appropriate levels of autonomy also support and enable more effective skill development, critical thought, and innovation.