The Leadership Intelligence – Human leadership from the Speaker of the House of Commons

Article 5 / 11 , Vol 46 No. 2 (Summer)

The Leadership Intelligence – Human leadership from the Speaker of the House of Commons

This article explores the concept of human leadership, which requires more than just technical competencies to deal with modern day challenges. The authors propose a model of leadership intelligence (LQ) that encompasses emotional intelligence (EQ), cultural intelligence (CQ), and technical intelligence (IQ). The Speaker of the House of Commons serves as an example of a leader who demonstrates an equal proportion of use of the LQ variables. The authors emphasize the importance of a flexible and adaptive leadership style that depends on the context and timing of the situation. The deployment of each intelligence requires a strong instinct from leaders, which can be nurtured through development and lived experiences. Effective leaders draw on the strengths of their surrounding advisors and practice self-leadership to address gaps in their individual leadership. The authors highlight Speaker Anthony Rota’s re-election for a second term as evidence of his successful human leadership style, characterized by calmness, fairness, and respect for all Members of Parliament (MPs), and the ability to lead with humility, judgment, accountability, empathy, and adaptability.

Ismail Albaidhani and Alexandre Mattard-Michaud

Ismail Albaidhani, PhD, is the Strategic Advisor in Human Resources at the House of Commons Administration. Alexandre Mattard-Michaud is the Chief of Staff of the Speaker of the House of Commons.


What is a leader? The simplest definition of a leader is someone who “engages and empowers others in achieving a common goal.” Beyond that statement, there is a good deal of confusion about what leaders are and what makes them effective. Some people believe that leadership is an innate gift, a rare talent possessed by only a charismatic few. But that’s a misconception; leadership relies on core skills that can be learned. Do you think of a leader as someone who issues orders for others to follow? Another common myth about leadership is that it relies on rank and rules.

Today, leadership isn’t about commands from the executive suite. Offices tend to be flatter and less hierarchical than in the past. Many leaders now operate with little formal authority. Instead, a leader gets diverse groups of people to overcome conflicting beliefs and work together to achieve a shared vision.

The most effective leaders use advocacy — not formal authority — to accomplish their work. They know how to engage people and groups to pursue common goals, listen to and grasp multiple perspectives, build diverse coalitions of supporters, and seek expertise and feedback to refine their strategies.

A guiding principle they follow requires them to ask and answer the following question: “Why should anyone be led by me?” Practising authentic leadership and striving to “be oneself more — with skill,” is often the key to success.

But this is easier said than done. Most leaders rely on formal authority to achieve their goals. For example, leading subordinates in lower hierarchical organizational ranks or protecting one’s territory. It’s very rare to find real-life examples of leaders who steer the direction without using formal authority, “leading the work of peers and colleagues.”

The Speaker of the House of Commons is a unique leadership role. Elected by MPs from the various political parties, the Speaker receives a vote of confidence from their colleagues. It is a tremendous honour and a testament to being held in high esteem by one’s peers.

As the non-partisan guardian of the rights and privileges of the House of Commons, the Speaker leads by presiding over the proceedings of the House in the best interest of all MPs. Yet the Speaker does not participate in debate on matters related to legislation or with respect to policy decisions of the government.

The Speaker is responsible for regulating debate and preserving order in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the written rules of the House, and for deciding any matters of procedure that may arise. In overseeing the proceedings of the House, the Speaker must seek to maintain a balance to allow the majority to conduct business in an orderly manner while protecting the right of the minority to be heard. The Speaker ensures that the rights of individual members (such as free speech, exemption from jury duty, and freedom from obstruction, interference, intimidation and molestation) and of the House as an institution (such as the right to regulate its own affairs and the right to institute inquiries and to call witnesses and demand papers) are fully protected and exercised.

The Speaker is also the head of the House administration, responsible for its overall direction and management, and chairs the Board of Internal Economy, the House of Commons’ governing body.

The Speaker represents the House of Commons in all its powers and proceedings and is the guardian of its rights and privileges. They represent the House in its relations with the Senate, the Crown and other bodies outside Parliament.

In this article, we use case studies and ethnographic research methods to draw a parallel between the Speaker’s leadership style and other modern leadership practices. We focus on three key leadership capabilities needed to form a modern human leadership model (LQ):

  • Emotional intelligence (EQ);
  • Cultural intelligence (CQ); and
  • Technical intelligence (IQ).

Leadership Landscape

The leadership landscape is vast, as leaders’ styles significantly vary from one individual and group culture to another. The methods, characteristics and behaviours when directing, motivating, and managing others are key indicators of a leadership style. It is also the determining factor in how leaders develop their strategy, implement plans and respond to changes while managing the expectations of stakeholders and the team’s wellbeing.

As we start to consider some of the people we think of as great leaders, we can immediately see that there are often vast differences in how each person leads.

Authoritative leaders, for example, are often referred to as visionary. Leaders who adopt this style consider themselves mentors to their followers. Not to be confused with authoritarian leadership, authoritative leadership places more emphasis on a “follow me” approach. Leaders chart a course and encourage those around them to follow.

Transactional or managerial leadership, on the other hand, is a style that relies on rewards and punishments. This leadership style emphasizes structure, assuming individuals may need more motivation to complete their tasks.

We’ve likely all been in a group where someone took control, communicating with the group and creating a shared vision—forging unity, developing bonds, promoting energy and instilling passion. This person is very likely considered a transformational leader.

Often referred to as a delegative leadership, this style focuses on encouraging initiative from team members. Generally, one of the least intrusive forms of leadership as it literally translates to “let them do,” it is therefore considered a very hand-off leadership style.

Democratic or participative leadership is a style that encourages leaders to listen to their followers and involve them in the decision-making process. This leadership style requires leaders to be inclusive, utilize good communication skills and, crucially, be able to share ownership and responsibility. Spontaneous, open and candid communication is often associated with a participative leadership style. Remote working or virtual teams can make this particularly challenging to maintain.

Formula to Human Leadership

Today’s leaders must confront new realities that go above and beyond the leadership styles described above. Social and political turbulence, work-life fusion and hybrid work have all added a new layer of complexity to their roles. Employees, colleagues, and followers, in general, expect more authenticity, empathy and flexibility from their leaders; amid an increasingly diverse and changing landscape, the room for error is slim.

Organizations must equip their leaders to operate more humanely — not only for employees but for the organization, its members, and stakeholders. Employees and followers of humane leaders are less likely to quit, more engaged, have better wellbeing and perform at a higher level. Unfortunately, humane leaders — those who are able to lead without formal authority — are few and far between. So, what needs to change? How can organizations and industry sectors create more humane leaders? By understanding that leaders are humans, too.

Traditionally, a person’s capacity to lead was often measured in terms of intelligence. Universities started evaluating their best admission candidates based on IQ tests that didn’t take into account cultural differences. Employers used the same approach to hire new employees. But this strategy has proven to be ineffective in producing real leaders who can stand the test of life.

There are hidden strong forces of the subconscious mind. A good leader inspires his or her followers, but how then do we explain the inspiration we derive from things not related to sheer intellect? For example, we “as humans” couldn’t provide an adequate explanation for the electric surge we feel when we are happy and excited, the deep stirring of the soul when we listen to Mozart’s Requiem and the full-flowing joy of laughing uncontrollably with our colleagues and friends as we share a joke — looking deep into the mind at what drives our behaviour.

Organizationally speaking, leaders perform much better when they’re not just looking and sounding appropriately leader-like, but also thinking, feeling and interacting like the type of humans many people admire. There is a need for continuously assessing, developing and nurturing the core capabilities leaders must have by looking at their emotional and cultural intelligence (known as the EQ and CQ) alongside their technical intelligence (IQ).

For mathematicians, the formula of holistic human leadership intelligence (LQ) in an organization can be a dynamic equation of the individual leader and the group leadership team’s effectiveness in managing their emotional, cultural and technical skills simultaneously.

(LQ = EQ + CQ + IQ).

Let’s break this formula down with real examples from a living leader, the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Human Emotion

Emotions are mental states brought on by neurophysiological changes associated with thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and a degree of pleasure or displeasure. Emotional intelligence refers to a person’s ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle their own emotions and other people’s emotions or group emotions.

At the House of Commons, debates between political parties illustrate democratic values in action. For example, Question Period, which occurs each sitting day in the House of Commons provides space for Members of Parliament to ask questions of government ministers, including the prime minister. However, owing to the varying viewpoints of Members and the constituents they represent, emotions tend to become most intense during this segment of the proceedings. Heckles, repeated bursts of theatrical laughter, indistinguishable sounds of protest and complaints from either side of the House are just a few manifestations of the high intensity and charge of emotions that run daily in the Chamber.

The Speaker’s role ensures that Question Period is conducted in a civil manner and questions and answers are kept within a set timeframe; both questioners and respondents can make their comments heard. The Speaker also ensures that the debate during this segment remains uninterrupted unless the Speaker believes emotions are obstructing a civil discussion. For example, the Speaker may interrupt proceedings if unparliamentary language is used.

How does the Speaker and the Speaker’s leadership team of Chair Occupants balance the delicate act of ensuring each voice is heard while managing the emotions derived from the MPs’ diverse and often polarized viewpoints on critical matters that concern Canadians.

In observing the actions of the current Speaker, Anthony Rota, for example, we would suggest he has found a way to use various spontaneous yet effective techniques to address the emotional part of the MPs’ debate while in the Chair. Based on his intuitive reading of the room’s emotional temperature, Speaker Rota sometimes used merely his body language to control the situation. He stood up silently with a big smile, which calmed the room as it drew Members’ attention to the importance of keeping calm and continuing a constructive debate.

On a few other occasions, when emotions were getting out of control, Speaker Rota stood firm and used a strong voice to remind members of the importance that every voice needs to be heard, which effectively brought the Chamber back to its expected decorum.

As part of his “human leadership,” he sometimes intentionally allowed the emotions to continue if he felt it was still constructive and managed. Once the dust settled, he would remind MPs of the rules or simply thank them for keeping the debate civil and constructive.

The Speaker and his leadership team of Chair Occupants use empathy to read the emotion of the Chamber and deploy various techniques to respond to it appropriately through humour, body language, firm statements, and other ways. Their quick assessments of the situation and most effective response illustrates the importance of how drawing on high emotional intelligence in advancing the work of the House serves parliamentary democracy.

This empathetic “human leadership” is also on display when the Speaker leads his team in the office, placing himself in their shoes, while still being able to articulate an inspiring vision.

Finally, thousands of Canadians write to the Speaker to react positively or negatively to events and subjects that are being debated by MPs in the House. By paying attention to their concerns and feedback, taking time to understand their position, and ensuring they receive timely responses that are more thoughtful than simple acknowledgements, Speaker Rota demonstrates “human leadership” skills beyond the people he presides over or manages in his office.

Culture and Diversity

Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behaviour, institutions, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups. Humans acquire culture through learning and socialization, shown by the diversity of cultures across societies.

A leader’s cultural intelligence is reflected in their ability to recognize, adapt and work effectively across diverse groups and different cultures.

Members of the House of Commons are diverse. Moreover, they represent diverse populations within Canadian society. An MP’s age, gender, religion, race, language, ethnic background, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and political background, personality type, professional experiences, learning style, and other factors correspond to broader segments of the Canadian public.

Speaker Rota and his leadership team of Chair Occupants demonstrate the impartiality and fairness required to maintain the trust and goodwill of the House by incorporating practices to reflect this diversity. The Chair Occupants, who come from different political parties represented in the House, are able to relate to and understand the diverse views of their colleagues while still maintaining neutrality. As a leadership team, they are gender balanced. The team speaks with MPs using their preferred language, and deliver critical messages in Canada’s two official languages. The team also considers the different participation needs of those joining virtually and others in the room to foster an inclusive work environment during proceedings.

Speaker Rota must fulfill a variety of diplomatic obligations such as maintaining relations with provincial, territorial, and foreign parliaments, overseeing parliamentary exchanges and facilitating cooperation programs with other parliaments. Drawing on cultural intelligence when interacting with these diverse dignitaries to forge partnerships and friendships across the globe is another example of using human (humane) leadership skills to achieve goals.

Logic and Reasoning

Logic is a skill used to identify rational criteria with which to conduct argumentation. A leader’s intellectual abilities and cognitive skills to reason, find logic, and problem-solve are what we call technical intelligence in this research.

Speaker Rota and his leadership team of Chair Occupants regularly deal with complex issues arising from the nature of working in Parliament. Members strive to appeal to their constituents, align with their respective political parties, advance a legislative agenda, manage offices and teams in various locations, and respond to media requests simultaneously.

Speaker Rota and his team receive numerous questions of privilege from Members; these are claims that privilege has been infringed upon or contempt has been committed. A Member wishing to raise a question of privilege in the House must first convince the Speaker that their concern is prima facie (on the first impression or at first glance) a question of privilege.

Speaker Rota listens carefully and holistically to the reasoning the member provided and takes the matter under advisement. This allows him to work with his team, including the Clerk of the House, senior table officers, and procedural experts, to assess the validity of the argument based on the interpretation of the parliamentary rules and traditions. This consultation and discussion results in a Speaker’s ruling that he, his deputy or assistants deliver to the Member in the House to ensure the orderly flow of business. This technical procedural work requires extensive research skills to identify similar historical examples. By combining these precedents with a modern view of the work of Parliament, Speaker Rota and his team reach a sound judgment that enables the law-making process to continue.

Speaker Rota, as the Chair of the Board of Internal Economy, demonstrated strong technical leadership in managing an unprecedented crisis in the history of the House of Commons. Working with Board members, the Clerk, and his management team, the House Administration found ways to respond to the complex task of maintaining key operations throughout the pandemic. The response, which began by enabling telework and virtual meetings, included the launch of hybrid proceedings.


The more critical the leadership role is, the more human it should be. Effective “human leadership” requires much more than just technical competencies to deal with modern day challenges. It must be adapt to intense emotions, culture, and increased diversity, while responding to complex problems that require sound logic and reasoning. The model proposed in this article combines various leadership capabilities that encompass emotional intelligence (EQ), cultural intelligence (CQ) and technical intelligence (IQ). These three core skill areas are be used by leaders at different times and in varying proportions to lead effectively. This article offered examples of how Speaker Rota and his team of Chair Occupants use each of the three capabilities to present a very “human leadership” style.

While the Speaker of the House of Commons often uses an equal proportion of the leadership intelligence (LQ) variables: the emotional, cultural, and technical abilities (EQ, CQ, and IQ), other leaders use in different contexts and industry sectors can adapt the model as appropriate to their respective realities. This emphasizes the importance of a flexible leadership style since there is no one size of leadership style that fits all contexts.

The weight of each of the three variables (EQ, CQ, and IQ) used will be highly dependent on timing and context. In specific industries, such as the military, aviation, financial and other technical sectors, more weight might be given to technical intelligence (IQ) to solve problems and move things forward while still deploying a fair amount of emotional and cultural intelligence (EQ and IQ). On the other hand, leaders in industries such as the art and service sectors may need to deploy a higher degree of their EQ and CQ skills to engage and motivate their employees while still using a fair portion of their IQ to advance their business goals.

Deciding when to deploy each capability requires a strong instinct (sixth sense) from leaders. They must read the room and take into account the various unspoken voices of their diverse audience. We argue that all the LQ model variables (EQ, CQ, and IQ) and the instinct for when to deploy each type of intelligence is not innate; it can be nurtured through lived experiences. This development process will be the subject of a future article.

While we often relate leadership to an individual, effective leaders know it’s about the complementary leadership of the collective. They draw on the strengths of their surrounding advisors – including and especially aspects where they may have deficiencies – to help them co-lead. A good leader who may be strong technically (IQ) may ask others to help them engage with others (EQ) and understand the diverse views and communication styles (CQ). What’s fundamental in a good “human leader” is their self-leadership. The high awareness of their strengths and the resources around them helps address gaps.

Speaker Rota’s re-election to a second term in the Chair over six other candidates is a vote of confidence in his ability to keep debates on track. His ability to navigate the House safely through the pandemic and to manage the technological transformation of House proceedings, ensured the light of democracy did not flicker during a difficult time in the country’s history. His fair and respectful approach to everyone – including MPs who use either of the country’s official languages, indigenous members, MPs from diverse backgrounds and minority groups, and both independents and partisans – ensured the voices elected to represent Canadians in all constituencies are heard and well represented in the work of the House of Commons.

Speaker Rota and his leadership team demonstrate the great value of using “human leadership” in a complex organization that can be difficult to manage effectively. With humility, good judgment, and drive, they demonstrate how strong accountability, empathy, authenticity and adaptability can be used to transcend both anticipated and unanticipated challenges.


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