A study by University of California psychology professor Dean Keith Simonton offers an intriguing theory regarding the relationship between perceived leadership and intelligence. There seems to be an optimum relationship between the level of intelligence of leaders and the intelligence of the people who are being led. Given the average IQ of any group fluctuates between 100 to 110, the study indicates the optimum level of a successful leader’s intelligence is no more than 1.2 standard deviations above the group mean (i.e., an I.Q. of around 120-125). In other words, a leader seen as too intelligent or competent actually struggles more at convincing people of his or her leadership ability.
Talking Over People’s Heads = Leadership Failure
…overly intelligent leaders tend to put off potential followers by (a) presenting “more sophisticated solutions to problems [which] may be much more difficult to understand” , and by (b) using “complex forms of verbal communication[and] expressive sophistication [that] may also undermine influence” , and (c) come across as too “cerebral” making them less more likely to be seen as an “outsider” and not “one of us.”
They also state an inability to come across as sincere occurs more frequently, since people can tell when a leader is “dumbing down” a message to gain acceptance. It’s important to note, Simonton’s model deals with perceived leadership rather than actual leadership ability. Given people often have difficulty following someone who doesn’t inspire confidence, this implies even if the leader is right, the lack of trust and respect from followers will lead to failure.
Is Our Current Obsession With EQ Hurting Business Evolution?
Additional studies on intelligence and leadership indicate having good “people skills” a/k/a Emotional Intelligence (EQ), is seen as more important than high intellect. Meanwhile, IQ seems to be more valuable than EQ for task-oriented leaders, who need to accomplish a specific goal. Given all the discussions these days around the need for better people skills in management. And, this study indicating the leaders perceived as having the most success have similar IQs to those they lead. It appears society is intentionally defining leadership as something that should be less IQ based. However, could this trend hurt business evolution? Are we slowing down productivity, effectiveness, and most importantly, innovation because we’re choosing less intelligent leaders – just because they’re more likable?
In a time where science now shows likability of a leader depends on whether their name matches the shape of their face, will our obsession with having kind, likable leaders have any negative ramifications? Only time will tell.
– J.T. O’Donnell