Research shows: If you want to be a great leader, make sure you are not too clever…

How intelligent are you? If you are above average, then good for you, you have all the potential to do a good job. However, if you are very, very clever and in a leadership role, then you might be in trouble, according to recent research…

There are many qualities that are good to have if you are a leader: being confident, inspiring, focused , being able to delegate, motivate, handle conflict, make decisions, being result-oriented, able to give feedback, master strategic thinking… The list is endless. What all of these skills have in common, besides being possible to improve through training and practising, is that the better you become at them, the more likely you are to become a great manager and leader.

But then there was this thing about intelligence. It might not be a quality or skill in the same sense as the ones just mentioned (can you train your intelligence?), but it is at least something which is good to have in abundance in most circumstances. Which perhaps leads us to believe that the more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to become a great manager. But, alas (or shall we perhaps write ’thank goodness’?), this does not seem to be the case…

A team of researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland recently examined 379 middle-management executives from 30 mainly European countries (a study written about in for example Business Insider and Psychology Today). The participants were asked to complete a personality questionnaire and an intelligence test, where, among other things, their problem-solving skills were tested, as well as their cognitive abilities and how well they could understand instructions and adapt to change. Each of the managers was then evaluated by at least eight people working closely to them (subordinates, peers and supervisors), who were asked to rate the managers on how efficient and good a leader they thought they were. 

It turned out that there was a correlation between how highly rated the managers were by their colleagues and and how well they had done in the tests, up to an IQ level of ca 120 (general average IQ level is 100; 111 among the participants), which seemed to be the peak for most effective leadership. Managers with a higher IQ than 120 were perceived as less effective leaders by their co-workers. They simply seemed to be too clever for their own good, so to speak…

The researchers did not have a clear explanation to why this seems to be the case, but they do offer some theories on why highly intelligent managers are struggling to be successful in their leadership roles:

• They struggle to simplify and explain difficult things, because they do not understand that others might not understand. 
• They find it difficult to empathise with the challenges their staff members’.
• They use a language that is too sophisticated, “speaking over the heads” of others.
• Therefore they also struggle to inspire and motivate their staff.
• They might be perceived as a little odd, they are just not “one of the team”.

But there were also managers who scored a little lower on the IQ scale during the study. They reaped a similar result as the highly intelligent managers when their co-workers were asked to rate how effective they were as managers.

So, perhaps the bottom line here is to keep an eye on your best brain cells and only let them rear their heads outside of your leadership role…

Or perhaps it is like the Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift wrote already in 1728 in his Essay on the Fates of Clergymen, “(—) when a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” 

What do you think?

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