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Is Leadership Intelligence Really All That Important?

Kuhn (2018) states,

“Research has found that emotional intelligence is a key factor to effective leadership and is essential to the development of successful leaders” (p. 1).

Prati, Douglas, Ferris, Ammeter, and Buckley (2003), whose findings suggest emotionally intelligent leaders influence teams by making them more transformationally adaptive, support this claim. The argument is further bolstered by findings that demonstrate how

people of high IQ only outperform individuals of average IQ twenty percent of the time while persons of average IQ outperform those with high IQ seventy percent of the time (Bradberry & Greaves, 2009).

When the primary instrument for gauging success potential fails so miserably, academia is forced to either abandon the assumed concept, or the instrument that measures it. The emerging field of emotional intelligence has driven a final nail in the coffin of the assumption that IQ is the primary indicator for the potential of success.

Antonikis, House, and Simonton (2017) propose that an effective leader’s IQ cannot exceed more than 1.2 standard deviations (SD) above the group mean. “In other words, a leader seen as being too intelligent or competent may well have difficulty convincing people of his or her leadership ability” (Vitelli, 2017, par. 2). Leaders of high IQ can "put off" potential followers by appearing too sophisticated or cerebral, undermining their influence, looking as an outsider who cannot be trusted (Vitelli, 2017). This researcher finds this observation fascinating but feels high levels of EI can provide a means by which leaders with high IQs can resonate more effectively among a more average constituency.

One might take into consideration the ABCDE approach postulated by Ellis (1955) when examining Antonikis, House, and Simonton's (2017) theory. The activating event (A) is their observation that leaders whose IQ is greater than 1.2 SDs above their followers, often fail in their attempt to lead. Their consequence (C) is that leaders should match with followers who are closer to them in IQ. What they failed to recognize was their unsubstantiated belief (B) that IQ inequality is the only variable that contributes to the phenomenon. Better evaluation of the data would require debate, disputation, and discarding (D) of unsubstantiated beliefs. Only then can the effects (E) of the full process shift our understanding of the event observed.

Matthew 7:12 (English Standard Version) teaches,

“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

This summarizes Goleman’s five components in that it addresses self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills in one concise statement we call the golden rule. When this is applied to Atonikis et al.'s theory, it is evident that the IQ gap between leader and followers can be bridged by the application of the five essential components of Emotional Intelligence.


Antonikis, J., House, R. J., & Simonton, D. K. (2017). Can super smart leaders suffer too much of a good thing? The curvilinear effect of intelligence on perceived leadership behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(7), 1003-1021.

Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence, 2.0. San Diego: TalentSmart.

Ellis, A. (1955). New approaches to psychotherapy techniques. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 11, 207-260.

Kuhn, C. J. (2018). Emotional intelligence leadership development program (Master's thesis). The University of Houston-Clear Lake. Retrieved from ProQuest (10956639).

Prati, L. M., Douglas, C., Ferris, G. R., Ammeter, A. P., & Buckley, M. R. (2003). Emotional intelligence. Leadership effectiveness, and team outcomes. International Journal of

Organizational Analysis, 11(1), 21.

Vitelli, R. (2017, August 17). How smart should a leader be? Retrieved from Psychology Today:

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