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Does Intelligence Make Leaders Influential?

Some leaders are more influential than others.

And, of course, some leaders are more intelligent than others.

But more intelligent leaders aren’t necessarily more influential.

In fact, research has found that the most intelligent leaders tend to be less influential.

Intelligence and influence

The most important thing to understand about the relationship between intelligence and leadership influence is that it’s not linear.

In other words, higher intelligence can be helpful up to a certain point, but more isn’t always better.

The most influential leaders tend to have somewhat above-average intelligence, but usually not very far above average.

Why is that? We can break it down to 4 basic reasons.

1. Relative intelligence

A leader doesn’t actually need to be the smartest person in the world.

A leader can be very influential just by being one of the smartest people in the room.

Being more intelligent than that doesn’t usually make a leader more influential.

2. Group intelligence

Some groups have more intelligent individual members than others.

Given the importance of relative intelligence, the required intelligence for an influential leader should vary based on the intelligence of the other people in the group.

Being the smartest person in the room depends on who else is there.

3. Threat 

Highly intelligent people might use their intelligence to intimidate or manipulate their less-intelligent counterparts. (And, of course, other people might resent that.)

4. Comprehension

People know it when someone seems “smart.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be able to comprehend or appreciate what they’re saying.

When a leader is highly intelligent, other people might not be able to understand them as well.

Photo by Sidney Perry on Unsplash

Is there an ideal IQ for an influential leader?

There might actually be one.

A recent large-scale study found that the most influential leaders tend to have an IQ right around 120.

The average IQ score is 100, so the most influential leaders are solidly above average.

Less than 20% of people score above 120 on an IQ test. 120 is definitely not a low score.

But then again, it’s far from the highest score possible. Nearly 1 in 5 people score above that.

But also keep in mind that this research is descriptive, not prescriptive.

It shows how things tend to happen, which is not necessarily how they ideally should be.

Any leader (of any intelligence) can benefit from understanding the 4 reasons we discussed.

Image credits: Sidney Perry on