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Intellectual Stimulation: Re-envisioning 21st Century Leadership

A Glance at the Post-Pandemic WorldA Glance at the Post-Pandemic World

Peace, stability and development of nations around the world have been adversely impacted by Covid19 and the resultant economic, social and political downfalls, climate change, conflict and war, and multiple forms of social and political injustice. Circumstances, both political and economic, change constantly and at a rapid speed making it difficult for even the most experienced data analysts to forecast the future. The issues we are circumstanced to face have become multi-faceted, and the interconnectedness of these issues has made it more difficult to understandand resolve them. Making an informed decision on what needs to be done has therefore become more difficult than ever. In other ways, the world today is characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA).


Leadership: Who can solve this Puzzle?

The status quo requires leaders who can make a meaningful difference in the lives of their followers. Be it in the political, social, economic or corporate sphere, there is an immediate need for leaders to manifest a leadership style that can help the world recover and bring forth meaningful difference that is both inclusive and sustainable. Over the decades, the concept of leadership has changed; perhaps from authority to responsibility, from a leader-centric viewpoint to a follower-centric viewpoint and from influencing followers to empowering them. With these conceptual changes, intellectual stimulation or in other wordsthe ability of the leader to stimulate his/her followers to “be creative and innovative” as well as “to challenge their own beliefs and values as well as those of the leader and the organization” (Northouse, 2015, p. 272) has emerged as one of the key responsibilities linked with the day-to-day operations of a leader. 

The American Psychological Association (2022) defines Intellectual Stimulation as “the enhancement of cognitive processing – including creativity, discernment, and insight—that occurs when individuals exchange ideas and opinions during interpersonal or group discussion”. In other words, this means facilitating the growth of the cognitive capacities of the followers and developing a wide range of skills, that includespractical, cognitive, interpersonal and a plethora of other soft skills that are needed in the 21st century. Intellectual Stimulation is considered a core component of the Transformational Model of Leadership, which is considered a popular and effective leadership style. The model emphasizes the importance of leaders intellectually stimulating their followers and empowering them to contribute with their innovation, creativity and collaboration. Among the four core components of the model, intellectual stimulation plays a seminal role and contributes directly to the upskilling of followers and transforming attitudes and mindsets; fostering followers who take individual responsibilityand self-leadership andthereby paving way to the emergence of a new generation of leaders.


Why Should Leaders Intellectually Stimulate their Followers?

To unleash the hidden talents of the followers and to take the best contribution of all team members, leaders need to provide and facilitate opportunities for the followers to bring forth their ideas, suggestions and viewpoints when making decisions. This requires the leader to encourage multiple types of followers to not only challenge their own beliefs, assumptions and values; but also, those of their leader (Bass &Avolio, 1994). Furthermore, the leader should put in some extra effort and dedicate time and resources to see how he/she could create an environment that fosters intellectual stimulation.

Though, challenging it might be; intellectual stimulation gives leaders and organisations a plethora of gains. This includes the enhancement of employee commitment towards the organisation (Anjali and Anand, 2015) as well as trust and positive work relations with the leader (Mustafa and Nazir, 2018). Among the gains, one is particularly revolutionary: Intellectual Stimulation enables followers the opportunity to enhance their critical thinking, challenge stereotypes and preconceived notions of what is right, and to reach their own higher levels of potential and self-leadership (Ray, 2020).


How Can Leaders Intellectually Stimulate their Followers?

Leaders can utilise multiple strategies for intellectually stimulating their followers and through them ensure the attainment of organizational goals. Leaders can make intellectual stimulation a common organisational strategy that is aimed at empowering their followers.

There are several ways leaders can intellectually stimulate their followers. Leaders can facilitate an organisational culture in which employees can freely without fear and restriction ask questions, suggest innovative ideas and provide feedback. Leaders can also facilitate interpersonal and intergroup discussions in which employees can not only enhance their communication skills but also master problem-solving and critical thinking.

As intellectual stimulation, leaders can provide employees, opportunities for academic and professional development. This could be through organising Continued Professional Development (CPD) sessions, sensitisation workshops and othershort courses; so that employees can enhance their intellectual capacity. In addition, leaders can provide support for employees to pursue further/higher education programmes and provide continuous and lifelong learning opportunities. Leaders can also provide the necessary support in obtaining memberships in professional associations. Although not commonly practised, leaders can also consider providing employees with opportunities to explore different cultures through organising activities that can promote diversity and inclusion. These activities can include diverse programmes such as diversity lunches, human libraries, and recreational activities.


Re-envisioning 21st Century Leadership

Leaders in the 21st century must move towards inclusive and sustainable practices as envisioned by the 2030 sustainable development agenda (United Nations, 2023). This means leaders must take the necessary steps to empower the followers not to just follow in their footsteps, but to initiate their own expeditions towards their desired ends. Within organisational settings, leaders and followers must co-exist making clear to both parties their goals, accomplishments and concerns. Leadership must push the boundaries of authority to facilitate collaboration, in order to find persistent solutions to contemporary issues. The post-pandemic world requires leaders who can upskill and transform the mind-sets and attitudes of followers to take responsibility and self-leadership. Intellectual Stimulation has thus become a need of the 21st century and very soon, intellectual stimulation would become an inescapable parameter of effective leadership. Therefore, current leaders and prospective leaders must consider the best approaches for intellectual stimulation and how they in their capacities can help not only transform followers; but organisations, societies, and the world.

LSME believes profoundly in intellectually stimulating both staff and students. With a commitment towards the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education, we promote an organisational culture aimed at empowering individuals providing them opportunities to enhance their knowledge and skills. Intellectual Stimulation is a key component of our leadership practice and using diverse strategies we ensure intellectual stimulation. Some of our best practices are: willingness to accommodate new ideas and suggestions empowering both staff and students to freely express themselves, CPD sessions for capacity building, research workshops and annual LSME Research Conference, Employability and Enterprise Hub (EEH) for students, staff diversity lunch held monthly, multiple events including charity fundraising with a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion.  Through such means, LSME is committed to intellectually stimulating both staff and students and preparing them to face the unique challenges of the 21st century.


References

American Psychological Association (2022) Intellectual Stimulation. Available at: https://dictionary.apa.org/intellectual-stimulation (Accessed 30 December 2022)

Anjali, K.T. and Anand, D. (2015) ‘Intellectual Stimulation and Job Commitment: A Study of IT Professionals’.The IUP Journal of Organizational Behavior[online] 14(2), pp. 28-41, Available at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2673477 (Accessed 27 December 2022).

Bass, B. M., and Avolio, B. J. (1994). ‘Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership’. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.

Mustafa, G. and Nazir, B. (2018) ‘Trust in Transformational Leadership: Do Followers’ Perceptions of Leader Femininity, Masculinity, and Androgyny Matter?’.The Journal of Values-Based Leadership [online] 11(2). Available at: https://scholar.valpo.edu/jvbl/vol11/iss2/13 (Accessed on 30 December 2022).

Northouse, P. (2019) Leadership: Theory and Practice. 8th Ed. Thousands Oak: California.

Ray, M. (2020) Transformational Leadership: Intellectual Stimulation.   Available at:  https://www.michelleray.com/transformational-leadership-intellectual-stimulation/ (Accessed on 29 December 2022).

United Nations (2023) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Available at: https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda (Accessed 07 January 2023).

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