IB Leadership Intelligences

What are the IB Leadership 'Intelligences'?

IB World Schools are often complex organizations requiring IB leaders to demonstrate high levels of leadership intelligence.

Although I sometimes write of leadership as referring to individual people it is more accurate to consider leadership in terms of the leadership capacity within your school. Therefore when we talk about the IB leadership intelligences we refer both to the intelligences which an individual leader has within your school and also the intelligences of the leadership capacity of your school.

This page examines what the IB means by leadership intelligences and provides opportunities for you to use them as a reflective and organizing tool within your school.

IB leadership intelligences - key ideas

The role of the IB school leader is a complex one. IB School Leaders often lead and manage complex situations which require them to have a wide range of skills and aptitudes. Within this context there is an understanding that they will help lead the process for IB authorization and on-going implementation and evaluation. Within the IB Leadership Intelligences Literature Review (see below for reference) the comparison is made between the IB school leader and a circus performer who has to balance an ever increasing number of plates within a complex social, political, cultural, economic and organizational setting. The IB has introduced a leadership intelligence framework to help leaders understand and develop the skills they require to do this.

What do we mean by ‘leadership intelligences’? ‘Leadership intelligence’ is a multi-dimensional, dynamic and developing concept. The IB talks about this overarching leadership intelligence framework that incorporates, but is not exclusive to, the following seven intelligences:

  • Strategic – the ability to develop, lead and manage school strategy
  • Relational – the ability to nurture relationships and build community
  • Cultural – to understand, navigate and engage within and across cultures within the context in which they work
  • Entrepreneurial – the ability to innovate, bring about change and solve problems
  • Reflective – the ability to be self-aware and to critically reflect
  • Pedagogical – to lead and manage effective learning and teaching
  • Heuristic – the ability to make decisions under pressure

Where did these intelligences come from? These intelligences arose out of a close study of the leadership research, the learner profile and the IB Standards and Practices (IBO 2014) and other key IB documents which highlight the IB requirements for becoming and continuing as an IB World School. These standards and practices state how IB school leaders should cognitively engage. It became evident that IB leadership required cognitive complexity and engage.

Can these leadership intelligences be taught and learnt? Elsewhere on this website we have explored the work of Carol Dweck et al. which demonstrated that intelligence is not fixed and static, but is malleable and can grow. So also, the IB promotes the fact that leadership intelligences can be taught and learnt. These leadership intelligences are learnable. “As IB leaders broaden and learn from their experiences, their intelligences in terms of being able to engage with new and competing opportunities, problems and challenges, evolve and crystalize into deeper areas of cognition characterized by “wisdom, insight, intuition” (MacGilchrist et al 2004 quoted in IB, 2017). Learning is at the heart of leadership. The IB acknowledges a constructivist understanding of how knowledge and meaning is made. This also applies to IB school leadership: school leaders bring with them a wealth of experiences from their past work, collaborate with other leaders to professionally inquire and creatively solve problems that arise, and continue to grow and learn from their ongoing reflection on their experiences.

Collective capacities to achieve goals: The IB draws on the work of The Intelligent School (2004) where intelligence is defined as "the collective capacities schools have that enable them to achieve their goals successfully. It involves the use of wisdom, insight, intuition and experience as well as knowledge, skills and understanding." (MacGilchrist, B., Reed, J., & Myers, K (1997), The Intelligent School, SAGE). The role of the school leader is to develop these collective capacities, these intelligences within the school culture.

Helpful documents

  • IB Literature Review for Leadership Intelligences, Waterson, M., Calnin, G., Fisher, D. & Richards, S. , IB (October 2017) provides a clear introduction to the IB approach to school leadership. It begins by establishing why school leaders need to demonstrate cognitive complexity and the link between mastery of this complexity and effectiveness of their leadership. When introducing the concept of leadership ‘intelligences’ the authors recognize that the idea of ‘intelligence’ is contested by some who would prefer to use alternative concepts of ‘capabilities’ or ‘aptitudes’. However, they refer to how this concept has been developed by educationalists (e.g. Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences) and conclude that “An approach that identifies a range of cognitive capacities needed to navigate through complex educational landscapes will undoubtedly resonate with leaders in current IB World Schools” (p4). The document then goes on to explore each of the leadership intelligences in some depth, providing academic provenance for each intelligence in turn. This is a useful document to share with your leadership team. You may like to use a protocol to do this such as Jigsaw a document or book.
  • IB Leadership: Internationally-minded leaders, Richards, S in Establishing an international school: Getting it right from the start, Woodard (October 2017). Click HERE to access the whole book and Sue Richards’ article.

IB Leadership Intelligences

The IB have identified the following seven leadership intelligences which mirrors the areas of activity necessary to ensure that the IB programmes are effectively implemented. These seven intelligences present a holistic picture of leadership 'in the round'.

Activity 1: Focusing on the IB Leadership Intelligences

Use the plus-minus-interesting protocol to carry out a focused read of the following information about the IB Leadership Intelligences.

  • Underline in one color those words/phrases which you agree with and/or those things which you do well
  • Underline in another color anything you disagree with and/or those things which you do not focus on
  • Underline in a third color anything you found interesting and wish to explore further

Strategic Intelligence

Strategic: This is the leadership intelligence required to "respond appropriately to the present, creating the future and anticipating the consequences" (MacGilcrest[1]).

Strategic thinking involves collaboratively establishing and creating alignment to a shared vision, recognizing emerging trends, developing school strategy and effectively managing change within the school. The IB Standards and Practices talk about the leaders' role in aligning school mission and philosophy with that of the IB and ensuring 'buy in' from the whole school community.

To what extent do you:

  • Regularly articulate and promote a vision for the school’s future in collaboration with the school community?
  • Develop and articulate shared school values?
  • Engage in collaborative strategic planning and programme implementation activities
  • Build alliances and partnerships in and outside the school?
  • Make decisions which reflect deep understanding of issues and how they relate to students, staff and parents?
  • Manage resources to respond to changing needs and improve whole school outcomes?

Cultural Intelligence

Cultural: The intelligence required to navigate the complex cultural terrain of IB World Schools.

IB leaders are continually interacting with people and ideas from different cultural traditions. In many cases this is because they are working with a large number of cultures in their student and staff body, be it in national or international schools. IB leaders are also responsible for leading on IB programmes which have international mindedness at their heart. The IB's stated aim is to "promote intercultural understanding and respect ... as an essential part of life in the 21st century" (IBO 2015). It is the role of the IB leader to harness the human potential within the diverse school communities and create a shared culture that not only respects and celebrates cultural diversity but also sees it as essential for intercultural learning.

To what extent do you:

  • Demonstrate a commitment to international mindedness, promote intercultural understanding and respect?
  • Understand cultural expectations of yourself as leaders and others within your community, and demonstrate flexibility in meeting those expectations?
  • Understand differing cultural expectations of teaching, learning and education?
  • Balance diverse cultural expectations in the service of achieving the school vision?

Refer to the page Cultural Intelligence on in this website.

Pedagogical Intelligence

Pedagogical: The intelligence required to lead an effective teaching and learning community.

IB Standards and Practices are clear that IB leaders are "expected to demonstrate pedagogical leadership aligned with the philosophy of the programmes." IB leaders recognize the impact of a pedagogical style of leadership on student outcomes. They are responsible for developing a school culture that fosters and values professional learning. They acknowledge that the IB has a constructivist view of knowledge,  i.e. schools as places where knowledge and meaning is constructed. They show a commitment to professional inquiry, collaborative learning practices and research. Thomas Sergiovanni[2] speaks of the role of the leading in “developing the social and academic capital for students, and intellectual and professional capital for teachers.”

To what extent do you:

  • Lead, facilitate and promote a collaborative professional culture in the faculty?
  • Lead the learning and development of teachers whilst learning alongside them about what works and what doesn't?
  • Have expert knowledge about contemporary teaching and learning practices? Understand and interpret the IB programme's curriculum and the IB approaches to teaching and learning?
  • Ensure professional development is linked to improved teacher performance and student outcomes?
  • Have formal review and renew policies and practices to inform educational decisions?
  • Hold teachers to account by articulating SMART goals and motivate them to achieve them?
  • Understand and use research and high quality data for school improvement?

Relational Intelligence

Relational: This intelligence is required to create a collaborative culture and a cohesive school community focused on achieving agreed shared goals.

IB World Schools can often be complex and richly diverse communities. The challenge for IB leaders is to understand all stakeholder expectations (both internal and external) and support all to work together to achieve better outcomes for students. They demonstrate contextual sensitivity to others. The IB Learner Profile draws attention to three attributes which are very clearly associated with relational intelligence: communicators, principled and caring.

To what extent do you:

  • Focus on cultivating trusting, respectful and collaborative relationships across the whole school?
  • Ensure systems and resources are adequate to nurture collaboration and that people feel they can take creative risks?
  • Demonstrate the ability to engage with people who hold different (cultural) values, show empathy for them and their perspectives?
  • Promote and build the leadership capacity of others, developing future leaders through coaching, mentoring and succession planning?
  • Model, promote and develop positive, respectful relationships within the school and wider community?

Entrepreneurial Intelligence

Entrepreneurial: This intelligence is required to lead the school in creative ways through the inevitable changes that schools experience. IB leaders who exhibit this intelligence demonstrate a commitment to active, creative and discovery-driven engagement. They promote, and evaluate new ideas and practices, take intellectual risks and support others in these endeavors. They expect change and respond in creative ways.

One of the IB Learner Profile attributes is 'risk-taking' which is described as approaching "uncertainty with forethought and determination ... to explore new ideas and innovative strategies ... (being) resourceful and resilient in the face of challenges and change."

To what extent do you:

  • Creatively generate new ideas, redefine problems and act persuasively to get people alongside these new ideas?
  • Analytically redefine and formulate problems to find new solutions,and use resources effectively to solve problems?
  • Demonstrate that you are open to new  opportunities as they arise?
  • Look to balance new ideas and practices and the school community's capacity to implement them

Reflective Intelligence

Reflective: IB leaders embody the IB Learner Profile and work to put critical reflection at the core of professional activity. The ability to reflect is a key attribute of that profile: "they work to understand their strengths and weaknesses in order to support their learning". Reflective intelligence is essential to solving problems in complex and changing environments. Reflective intelligence also includes the ability to be reflexive, i.e. the ability to question one's own way of doing things with the potential of changing practice.

To what extent do you:

  • Continually reflect on your leadership style and the impact your leadership is having on others?
  • Inquire into leadership practice, engage in professional learning activities, reflect on your own leadership practice and carry out action research?
  • Listen to others and gather information so as to help solve problems?
  • Ensure congruence between leadership stance and actions?
  • Continually assess the impact your leadership is having on student outcomes, using data to inform you?
  • Critically analyze your own leadership practice, critique your own performance and model an attitude to lifelong professional learning?
  • Question assumptions to find creative ways forward?

Heuristic Intelligence

Heuristic intelligence is concerned with the ability to make decisions in complex situations. Leaders use it when making crucial judgments. Underpinning heuristic intelligence is the need to make decisions and rapid judgments with the big picture in mind.

IB leaders do not always have the time or luxury to carry out deep reflection and analysis of a situation before they make decisions. An example of when they may have to use heuristic intelligence is in the recruitment of teachers when the decision is sometimes based on a judgment call.

To what extent do you:

  • Make timely and considered decisions, drawing on past experiences to ensure that the right action is taken at the right time?
  • Understand multiple perspectives of complex issues and align decision-making and priorities with vision and mission?
  • Analyze and evaluate alternative potential outcomes?
  • Take time to pause, reflect and consult with stakeholders before making decisions?
  • Maintain integrity in the face of disparate voices and significant pressure?

Activity 2: IB Leadership intelligences Market Place

Consider the following activities both in relation to yourself and also the leadership capacity in your school.

  • Compile a montage of observable actions that demonstrate each of the intelligences. Which intelligence is the most challenging to demonstrate?
  • Which intelligence comes most naturally to you? How do you know?
  • Which intelligences do you value in others? Why?
  • Which intelligence is least familiar to you? Why?
  • Is there anything you would add to the following intelligence:  Strategic, Cultural, Pedagogical, Relational, Entrepreneurial, Reflective, and Heuristic?

Activity 3: Performance Management

    • How could you use the IB Leadership Intelligences in performance managing leaders in your IB World School?
    • Consider designing a 360 degree questionnaire based around the intelligences.
    • What evidence could a leader provide to demonstrate performance against each of the intelligences?

    Activity 4: Recruiting IB Leaders

    As leaders of IB World Schools what processes do you have in place to recruit leaders into your school? How do you ensure that the philosophy and pedagogy of the applicants is aligned with IB philosophy and pedagogy? You may find this activity a useful framework for considering how you appoint new leaders into your IB World School.

    Use the IB Leadership Intelligences as a tool for recruitment. In groups:

    • Design recruitment activities to test/assess each leadership intelligence;
    • What evidence would you be looking for to demonstrate the intelligence?
    • Write open questions that would explore each of the intelligences.


      1. ^ The Intelligent School, 2004
      2. ^ Leadership as pedagogy, capital development and school effectiveness. International Journal of Leadership in Education (1998).
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