WICS Theory of Leadership

WICS is an acronym for Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity, Synthesized.  The WICS theory of leadership states that good and effective leaders possess a crucial set of developed characteristics:  (1) the creativity to generate novel and useful ideas for leadership; (2) the analytical intelligence to ascertain whether these ideas are good ideas; (3) the practical intelligence to implement these ideas and to persuade others of their value; and (4) the wisdom to ensure the ideas help to achieve a common good through the infusion of positive ethical values.

According to WICS, leadership is in large part a decision. People are not born for leadership, but rather decide for leadership.  How good and effective they will be, after making this decision, will depend on the extent to which they embody the characteristics of WICS.  WICS suggests that leaders can fail in a number of ways.

One way for leaders to fail is to lack creative ideas.  They simply repeat what others are done or do what they perceive to be safe.  Their leadership is pedestrian and much of what they do amounts to their trying to figure out how they best can preserve their position of leadership without rocking the boat too much. 

A second way for leaders to fail is through lack of analytical intelligence (i.e., sufficient IQ).  The leaders cannot distinguish good from not so good ideas, or workable ideas from ones that are merely pie in the sky.  Moreover, a leader needs to ascertain what his or her competition is doing, and analyze how to compete effectively in attracting people to his or her rather than other organizational or other entities. 

A third way for leaders to fail is through lack of practical intelligence or common sense—that is, they may have good ideas but they are unable effectively to implement them or to convince other people of the value of these ideas.  Leaders also need to show their constituents their passion for accomplishing their goals. 

A fourth way for leaders to fail is through lack of wisdom—the leader seeks only to advance the cause of certain subgroups for whom he or she is responsible rather than seeking a common good.  Or the leader may be unethical, perhaps even seeking a common good but through means that are unethical and thus that, in the end, result in poor outcomes.  A leader who is not ethical may be effective in achieving his or her agenda, but he or she cannot be a “good” leader.  As a result of unwise or unethical leadership, the disfavored suffer poorer outcomes and may, effectively, revolt. 

A fifth way for leaders to fail is through being unable to synthesize the various elements of wisdom, intelligence, and creativity. These processes need to interact with each other, not merely act on their own.



Key References

Sternberg, R. J. (2002). Successful intelligence: A new approach to leadership. In R. E. Riggio, S. E. Murphy, & F. J. Pirozzolo (Eds.), Multiple intelligences and leadership (pp. 9–28). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sternberg, R. J., & Vroom, V. H. (2002). The person versus the situation in leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 13, 301–323.

Hedlund, J., Forsythe, G. B., Horvath, J. A., Williams, W. M., Snook, S., & Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Identifying and assessing tacit knowledge: Understanding the practical intelligence of military leaders. Leadership Quarterly, 14, 117–140.

Sternberg, R. J. (2003). WICS: A model for leadership in organizations. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2, 386–401.

Sternberg, R. J. (2004). WICS: A model of educational leadership. The Educational Forum, 68(2), 108–114.

Sternberg, R. J. (2005). WICS: A model of positive educational leadership comprising wisdom, intelligence, and creativity synthesized. Educational Psychology Review, 17(3), 191–262.

Sternberg, R. J. (2007). A systems model of leadership: WICS. American Psychologist, 62 (1), 34-42.

Sternberg, R. J. (2008). The WICS approach to leadership: Stories of leadership and the structures and processes that support them. The Leadership Quarterly, 19 (3), 360-371.

Sternberg R. J. (2011).  From intelligence to leadership: A brief intellectual autobiography.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 55, 309-312.

Sternberg, R. J. (2012). The WICS model of leadership. In M. Rumsey (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of leadership (pp. 47-62). New York: Oxford University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (2013). Leadership for academic administration: What works when?.  Change, 45(5), 24-27.