Oswald Letter

The smartest person in the room

by Dan Oswald

I recently was reading on the subject of leadership, and one topic that came up was intelligence. So I set out to do some research on the importance of IQ in leadership. I must admit, it’s not easy to find a lot written about the intelligence of leaders. Type “leadership and intelligence” into Google, and you will get page after page of links to articles about the value of emotional intelligence for leaders but little about raw intelligence or IQ. Could there be a reason leadership and IQ are discussed so infrequently? Maybe “intelligent leader” is considered an oxymoron.

One study I saw quoted as I did my research stated that “the average IQ of top performing leaders is 104.” Now, since the average score for an IQ test is 100 and 68% of the scores fall between 85 and 115, an average score of 104 is exactly that—average. Again, maybe that’s why CEOs aren’t bragging about their intelligence and why no one seems to be drawing a parallel between IQ and successful leadership.

Maybe this is why autocratic forms of leadership have come under attack in recent decades. Autocratic leadership provides leaders with a lot of power over the people they direct, and team members have little or no ability to make suggestions, even if they’re good for the organization.

Of course, autocratic leadership is very efficient since decisions are made quickly. But with a leader who is no smarter than the rest of the team, the likelihood that the best decisions are being made is low. So the team ends up headed in the wrong direction in a very efficient manner. All that gets you is to the wrong place sooner!

So if not intelligence, what makes a great leader?

Consistent. People need to see that a leader acts and responds to situations with consistency. Whereas charismatic leaders often attract good people, leaders who act with consistency keep them. People can’t operate in an environment in which they’re constantly questioning how the boss will react. Nothing saps the energy of an organization more than the repeated shuffling of goals and priorities. Consistency provides a work environment in which people can focus on what’s really important in getting the job done right.

People-focused. Great leaders understand they need the people around them to execute the vision they have created for their organization. The ability to identify, attract, train, and retain strong talent is critical for organizational success. People with great and grand visions but without the ability to develop followership aren’t leaders, and how far they can go will be limited by that inability.

Innovative. Great leaders appreciate the importance of innovation and ideas. They’re not only inventive but also appreciate new ideas that come from other people. Great leaders understand they aren’t—and can’t be—the sole source of innovation at the company. They encourage and extract new ideas from everyone around them instead of assuming they’re the only one who can innovate.

Grateful. Leaders must show gratitude to those around them for the contributions they make. Egocentric leaders see only their work, their contributions, their brilliance. Strong leaders appreciate the work others have done and give them credit. A little gratitude goes a long way in building loyalty and providing people with a sense of satisfaction. Saying “thank you” or recognizing an individual’s contributions is a simple—but necessary—act every leader must come to appreciate.

A good example. People judge leaders by what they see them do. Actions always speak louder than words. And the actions of leaders set the tone for everyone else. Often, the followers emulate the actions of the leaders. So if leaders aren’t behaving in a way they want their subordinates to behave, they may need to reconsider their own actions. There isn’t one set of rules for how leaders should act and another for everyone else.

The bottom line is that it’s not often that leaders are the smartest people in the room. And even if they might be, even more critical to their success will be their ability to demonstrate these other competencies. Because just as they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes more than the efforts and talent of one individual to run a successful organization. Remember, to be a leader, you must have followers—and to gain a following, you must demonstrate the characteristics that cause others to want to follow your lead.

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