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When it comes to leadership, is smarter always better?



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In the world of succession planning, everybody is looking for the next great leader. And whether your IT team needs a new manager, or you’re looking to find the company’s future CEO, intelligence is probably high on your wishlist of desirable leadership traits.

But how important is intelligence when it comes to leadership? And is smarter always better?

A recently published study led by John Antonakis, professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, provides some insight. Based on an an existing theory, it examined the role of intelligence in effective leadership, and whether very smart leaders suffer from too much of a good thing.

The research team examined a sample of 379 middle-management executives from 30 countries, 26.4% of whom were women. The participants were followed over six years and their leadership ability was determined by ratings from their subordinates as well as peers, and their supervisors. Participants also completed a personnel test used to estimate intelligence.

The study found that perceived effectiveness as a leader had an inverted-u relationship with intelligence. The more intelligent the leader, the more effective they were seen to be – but only up to a certain point. The peak IQ at which leaders was seen as most effective was 120. Once leaders surpassed that number, their perceived effectiveness started to go down.

The findings confirm that those with higher intelligence tend to be perceived as being less effective leaders, regardless of whether they are. Arguably then, appointing an extraordinarily intelligent CEO could lead to trouble in the form of staff lacking faith in the company’s leadership.

On the other hand, perceptions aren’t everything, and perhaps what your company needs is someone with a high IQ to turn business around.

ALSO READ: Do you think you’re better than your boss?

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