Genius ≠ Great Leadership?

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is one of the most hyped characteristics while determining the potential effectiveness of an individual. Fanciful figures of 175 or more are associated with certain categories of people – Nobel laureates, chess prodigies, and corporate titans – among others.Image result for why genius and great leadership don't go together
The truth is quite different. The “average” IQ is supposed to be 100 and a score of 120 is considered adequate for success in any field. Strangely, there is a consensus among experts that beyond a certain level, IQ by itself means nothing although the level is not fixed.
Now, Emotional Intelligence (EI) guru Daniel Goleman argues that while there is a correlation between intelligence and leadership performance for leaders up to an IQ of around 120, there is none for an IQ above 120 – what is more, there is a negative impact on leadership effectiveness for an IQ above 128!

This surprising research finding from the University of Lausanne surmises that the super-high-IQ leaders may not know how to tune into how other people think about a given issue or challenge. For example, they couch what remarks they think are motivating in ways that people cannot understand, let alone find resonating.

Consider this example:

Jimmy Cayne, the CEO of Bear Stearns when it imploded in 2008 triggering the financial crisis, is a genius. Yet, when the company was falling apart, he was incommunicado – playing at a bridge tournament. How do you explain this? Even more baffling is his reaction to the New York Fed’s refusal to give him a new line of credit (since I cannot reproduce the language used here, please read William Cohan’s verbatim account in the book House of Cards).

Consider why Kodak, the pioneer in photography, could not make the transition to digital in time?

Consider Sears, Blackberry, Nokia, and Kmart – companies that at one time were trailblazers and still managed to fail spectacularly. 

Goleman calls the missing skill set adaptability. Organizations need the ambidexterity to explore new opportunities while exploiting what is already working for them

Why do “geniusleaders fail this test?

The answer can be found in cognitive neuroscience – the brain’s super highway between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala – the interaction between the executive center and the emotional circuitry for rising to an emergency. To the brain’s danger radar, any change appears to be a threat, and the circuitry propels us into a state of action, anger, panic, or over-reaction.

Neuroscience defines “resilience” as the time it takes to recover from the emergency arousal to a state of calm and clarity. When we are in high alert, our responses are rigid. As we recover, we can be more flexible in our thinking. All of which is exactly what makes adaptability so critical in dealing with today’s state of perpetual change. 

At a meeting of 100 CEOs from different sectors, the sole point of consensus was that the issue was a people problem

We need leaders who can embrace change, not resist it

The next time you think a brilliant leader is what you need, think again.

Look for someone who can adapt – quickly.

As Goleman observes, genius and great leadership may not be compatible after all.


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