When you ask people to name the qualities of great leaders, intelligence is the only attribute that is seen as a must-have.
But if you think every great CEO is a genius, think again.
A meta-analysis led by Timothy Judge, Ph.D., a professor at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, found that there’s a pretty weak link between intelligence and leadership.
In fact, leaders are more likely to be high in extraversion and conscientiousness than super-intelligent.
So where did this idea that a high IQ is necessary to be an effective leader come from? It may be simply that we perceive leaders as smarter than they really are, simply because we know they’re powerful and assume they must be really intelligent to have amassed all that power.
Interestingly, studies have found that when intelligence is measured perceptually rather than through objective tests, there is in fact a high correlation between intelligence and leadership.
Moreover, leaders might be the kind of people that do well in school, which makes it seem like they’re much smarter than average (even though academic performance and intelligence aren’t exactly the same thing). Other studies have found that, when intelligence is measured by academic achievement, there is again a strong link between intelligence and leadership.
Of course, none of this research implies that your boss is an idiot. One theory Judge and his co-authors put forth is that leaders must possess
many traits in order to succeed — for example, the intelligence to make effective decisions, the dominance to convince others, and the motivation to persist. “If this is the case, then the relationship of any one trait with leadership is likely to be low,” they write.
The researchers also mention that alternative forms of intelligence — like emotional intelligence — could be equally, if not more, important to a leader’s success than traditional measures of IQ.
Ultimately, your boss might be well aware that he’s not as smart as some of the people he manages. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Brian Uzzi, Ph.D., writes that a successful leader knows his own strengths and weaknesses. In other words, he creates an effective team by hiring people who are more intelligent or more skilled than he is in certain areas.
In a way, this research is empowering: You don’t need to be a super-genius to succeed in business. Being an effective leader is more about having the right mix of qualities — like charisma, patience, and of course, intelligence — and being able to defer to someone who might know more than you do.
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