Accessibility Links

Does Having a Higher I.Q Make You a Better Leader?

Posted by: Tom Morris

A recent study by the Wharton school and the University of California has provided a proven link between IQ and leadership effectiveness. Whilst at first glance, that does not seem surprising, the research determined an “optimal” IQ level for leadership. This optimal IQ is associated with “perceived” leadership effectiveness, i.e. to what extent do those being led, believe that the leader is effective.

This optimal IQ is set at a 1.2 standard deviation higher than that of the team being led by the leader. According to the research, an optimal IQ for a leader with a team of collective average intelligence of around 100 would be about 118 points.

An IQ of 118 points is most definitely on the smart side, but it is not what would be deemed as “super intelligent”, which the research shows is actually detrimental to leaders. Very smart leaders can face difficulties due to their subordinates struggling with their complex ideas, or the language they use to describe actions and/or instruct the team. This results in members being prevented from identifying with their leader or perceiving them as an effective leader.

Although new, this research was based on a theory developed over 30 years ago in 1985 by Simonton, who theorised on the importance of intelligence in leaders. His theory concluded that a leader must be smart enough to lead the group, especially in order to keep any rivals at bay, but they cannot be too smart. If a leader comes across as too intelligent, and this is reflected in their communications and problem solving by creating overly sophisticated solutions, they are likely to be considered unrepresentative of the group and again, an identity issue arises. Head researcher John, Antonakis says “Too large an intelligence gap between leader and followers impairs leadership effectiveness, and being perceived as intellectually superior can undermine a leader.”

However, it is not all bad news for the overtly smart leaders of this world! The research shows leadership effectiveness is based on perception, therefore above optimal IQ probably only has a less beneficial impact rather than a wholly negative impact. The findings also indicate that leaders with a high level of intelligence who are predominantly task-focused are not impacted in the same way as leaders with socio-emotional responsibilities. This is more good news for CEOs, who are in top 1% of intelligence but are more likely to have a greater degree of task orientated activity.

Measuring IQ can be helpful when selecting leaders, however the authors of the research concluded that there was no one-size-fits-all IQ level for every manager. Stressing that it depends on the average level of intelligence of the group that the leader heads up. Personality factors also play a part due in relation to requirements of the job and providing more supportive leader functions. Appearing less smart and playing down intelligence in order to appear effective is one suggestion, but not the most practical option. Regardless, leaders need to be smarter than those they are leading so that they can identify solutions and make decisions so perhaps super smart leaders just need smarter people to lead!

Add new comment