Very Intelligent People Actually Make Less Effective Leaders

Posted on November 15, 2017

Photo: flickr

In a study done by John Antonakis at the University of Lausanne, 379 mid-level leaders at private companies in 30 mainly European countries completed a personality questionnaire and the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a validated measure of intelligence. These participants were recruited from an array of fields, such as banking, telecoms, hospitality and retail.

Whilst the average IQ for the general population stands at 100, the average IQ for the respondents stood at 111, with a relatively even spread of scores. Either peers or subordinates of the leader were then asked to rate them on the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire, one which explores the degree to which useful (e.g. "transformational" and "instrumental" style) and detrimental (e.g. a passive. hands-off approach) leadership styles are demonstrated.

Results found that despite gender and age playing a role, personality and intelligence has a greater significance in accounting for the variance between leadership styles. As with previous research, intelligence was found to have a positive linear correlation to leadership effectiveness. However, this result was shown to have flattened out and reversed at an IQ of 120. Leaders with an IQ of above 120 scored lower in the useful leadership styles, comparative to 'less smart' leaders. Whilst Antonakis' team predicted not only the correlation between high intelligence and less use of effective leadership methods, but also a greater use of harmful leadership styles, this data did not pan out. Smart leaders were not using bad approaches, they just did not really use the good ones.

Much as the results of this study shows the positive correlation between high intelligence and the use of less effective leadership styles, it does not tell us the cause behind it. And this is just but one of the several recent psychological studies investing how there can be "too much of a good thing". While there is no definite reason behind why smart people tend to make poorer leaders, it is possible that leaders who are on a different intellectual level may find it difficult to anticipate what may prove a challenge to others and reduce the complexity of a task to a more achievable level for others.

Intelligence does benefit leadership, but it doesn't seem to continue to do so at every level of increasing intelligence. While these results ultimately cannot prove the effectiveness of a leader in terms of increasing or diminishing returns, as this is also dependent on the IQ of the team members, they do suggest that even super smart leaders can suffer from too much of a good thing and "even highly advantageous traits can come with drawbacks".

Category(s):Workplace Issues

Source material from The British Psychological Society