High levels of intelligence make you worse at being a leader, study finds

Being too intelligent can make you a less effective leader, new research shows.

According to a study by the University of Lausanne published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, high intelligence can make you a better leader but only up to a point – the brightest amongst us are less good leaders.

Researchers recruited 379 mid-level leaders working at private companies in 30 mainly European countries, in a diverse range of industries including banking, telecoms, hospitality and retail.

The average age of the participants was 38 and 27 per cent were women. 

They were all asked to complete a personality questionnaire and intelligence test, the Wonderlic Personnel Test.

The average IQ of the participants was 111 – above the general population average of 100.

Researchers then spoke to eight peers or subordinates of each leader, who were asked to rate them on the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. This is a test used to determine to what extent a person demonstrates various leadership styles.

They found that on the whole, women were better leaders than men, and older leaders slightly better than younger ones. 

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However the most differentiation was down to intelligence and personality. 

Reinforcing the findings of previous studies, the researchers found a positive correlation between intelligence and leadership abilities, but only up to an IQ of about 120, from which point the correlation started reversing.

Researchers found that leaders whose IQs were above 120 scored lower for transformational and instrumental leadership than less smart participants.

And it was above an IQ of 128 that the link between high intelligence and less effective leadership became more clear and significant. 

It wasn’t that the highly intelligent leaders were using bad techniques though, but rather that they struggled to use good ones. 

The researchers couldn’t be sure of exactly why the brightest people were worse leaders than their less intelligent counterparts, but they suggested that it could be because they are more likely to use complex language, less skilled at simplifying tasks and struggle to see what others find difficult or challenging. 

The team also point out that they can’t pinpoint an ideal IQ for a leader because that may depend on the IQs of the subordinates.

Intelligence does benefit leadership, but the study suggests that doesn’t apply at each level of increasing intelligence. 

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