Go to main content
You are currently viewing the new site, if you wish to visit the classic site click here
BPS News

Very intelligent people make less effective leaders, according to their peers and subordinates

13 November 2017

Highly intelligent people tend to make good progress in the workplace and are seen as fit for leadership roles: overall, smarter is usually associated with success.

But if you examine the situation more closely, as does new research in the Journal of Applied Psychology, you find evidence that too much intelligence can harm leadership effectiveness. Too clever for your own good? Let’s look at the research.

John Antonakis at the University of Lausanne and colleagues recruited 379 mid-level leaders (27 per cent women, average age 38) at private companies in 30 mainly European countries, working in areas ranging from banking and telecoms to hospitality and retail. Each participant completed a personality questionnaire and a well-validated measure of intelligence, the Wonderlic Personnel Test. Their average IQ was 111 (the average for the general population is 100), with a fairly even spread of scores.

The researchers also had access to third-party ratings of the participants’ leadership performance from eight people: either peers or subordinates of the leader, who rated them on the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire, which explores the degree to which the leader demonstrates various leadership styles, some known to be useful (e.g. a “transformational style” which inspires, or an “instrumental” style that removes stumbling blocks), others detrimental (e.g. a passive, hands-off style).

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

Topics

Top of page