Intelligence – can leaders have too much of a good thing?

As a rule, it’s generally held that smarter people are more successful.  However, some new research in the Journal of Applied Psychology, suggests that when it comes to intelligence, leaders can have too much of a good thing.

Researchers from the University of Lausanne asked over 300 hundred mid-level leaders to complete both a personality questionnaire and IQ test.  They also had access to ratings of the participants’ leadership performance by peers or subordinates.

The average IQ for the group was 111 (the average for the general population is 100), and like previous research, intelligence showed a positive relationship with leadership – but only up to a point.  This link flattened out and then reversed at around an IQ of about 120.  Beyond an IQ of 128, the association with less effective leadership was clear and statistically significant.

Clearly the next question is why might this be?  Whilst the findings can’t tell us this, we might speculate that highly intelligent leaders:

  • use more complex language which others find less inspiring
  • find it difficult to anticipate what will prove a challenge to others (as it seems straightforward to themselves)
  • struggle to reduce tasks to an appropriate level of simplicity

So what can we take from this?  Some reassurance I suppose that for us less intelligent mortals that even highly advantageous traits have their drawbacks!!

Sam Eddleston
Learning Curator and Team Coach


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