With business and global environments changing by the nanosecond, so is the requirement of next-generation leaders to keep their minds sharp and flexible.


Today’s high performers are required to simultaneously acquire knowledge, master skills, and use their talents to solve both the challenges of today and those yet unforeseen.


Similar to how you manage your time, managing your intelligence is a key success factor of the world’s most successful and influential leaders. It’s not about thinking or studying more. Exemplary leaders have the unique ability to use their areas of expertise to “peek around corners” in order to spot trends, connect the dots, and identify new areas of opportunity that others miss.

intellectual-horsepower_definitionThis is the definition of Intellectual Horsepower, one of the 7 competencies of differentiated leadership.


Intellectual Horsepower requires deeper, open-minded and creative thinking. It requires the use of non-traditional techniques to uncover the hidden gems of brilliance you have in the subconscious of your mind.


Intellectual Horsepower is frequently associated with terms like “thought leadership” and “subject matter expert”. I call it your “zone of genius”.


Part of possessing strong intellectual horsepower is also knowing how and when to use it. Being smart and agile to use your intellectual horsepower in a way that leads and inspires others to excel is essential.

Some real life examples of leaders demonstrating Intellectual Horsepower:

  • Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes, combined the knowledge he gained about the shoes worn by polo players in Argentina with the lack of shoes for poor children in Buenos Aries, to build a for-profit, socially-conscious company. Through authentic storytelling and social media, hundreds of thousands of people joined the “One for One” and the “A Day Without Shoes” campaigns in support of Tom’s Shoes donating a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes purchased.


  • Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, focused on the common trend of how men hated to buy razors. He researched a new distribution model, set up a quick website, and then produced inexpensive, funny commercials about how bad the experience was to buy razors at store. The videos went viral and the sign-ups for the service proved his concept, resulting in future angel investment.


  • Massimo Bottura, chef of the three-Michelin star restaurant Osteria Francescana and a star of the Netflix series “The Chef’s Table”, used his culinary and influential expertise to save millions of pounds worth of Parmigiano Reggiano after the 2012 earthquakes in Italy. He taught 40K global restaurateurs how to make a new Parmigiano Risotto to add to their menus, which in turn saved the Parmigiano Reggiano industry and thousands of jobs and small businesses around the world.


  • During one of the leadership retreats that I facilitated for a technology client, one of their high potential employees used their expertise to identify 3 new, non-traditional markets where their products and services could have a major impact. After additional research and vetting, the most promising idea was approved for a trial program. The result? $250M of revenue in 19 months in a market they had never approached before.


The Lesson For Us All: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to demonstrate Intellectual Horsepower in a way that can impact the world.  When you see a way to make a difference, don’t hold back.  Your idea could create a new job, save a life, or be the solution others are literally dying for!


Here is a free PDF guide of a great exercise for both individuals and teams to use to practice “revving up” their Intellectual Horsepower.


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