Leadership and Intelligence

19 Apr 2022

In my previous article "Leadership and power", I came across with a comment saying that leadership is definitely not born. I disagreed with that because there is an important trait that facilitate leadership is intelligence which is usually associated with genetics, this is intelligence. 


What is intelligence ?


Hughes (2012) defined Intelligence as: “A person’s all-round effectiveness in activities directed by thought”.


There was a theory developed by Sternberg (1985) called “The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence” that are needed for solving complex mental problems. The three types of intelligence are:


Analytic intelligence: This is about the general problem solving ability that can be assessed by IQ tests. People with high levels of analytic intelligence see connections between issues, do well in school, are quick learners and can make accurate assumptions and inferences with information that may be unfamiliar to them.


However, there are people who perform poorly on the IQ tests and at school, and yet be very successful at solving complex problems and developing innovative and profitable solutions. This is where the other two intelligences come into play.


Practical intelligence: This is about knowing what to do and how to do it when confronted with a particular leadership situation such as poor performance by an individual or a team. Leaders can build their practical intelligence through experience and reflection on that experience. However, practical intelligence is usually specific to a particular area or domain (e.g. a particular market or country) and hence is more relevant when dealing with familiar information/issues. Analytic intelligence, on the other hand is especially relevant in new situations or dealing with new issues/information. Practical intelligence is thus associated with the concept of “street smarts” – knowing your way around a territory and knowing what to do, For example; how to handle difficult customers, having both types is very important.


Creative intelligence: This is about having the ability to produce solutions that are both useful and novel. The usefulness criterion takes this quality beyond analytical capability and incorporates practical know-how. There is a fairly positive link between creativity and analytic intelligence but possession of analytical intelligence does not necessarily guarantee the presence of creative intelligence. There are many highly analytical people who are also highly impractical. There are some empirical evidences pointing to a term called “Incubation” which is a temporary break from creative problem solving that can result in an insight- a light bulb. New business models and products are derived from Creative intelligence.

Founder of Apple Steve Jobs once stated that he has the visionary product inside him but he has to get it out of his head.


Emotional Intelligence

Salovey and Mayer (1990) who investigated why some bright people were not successful. They concluded that these people lacked "Emotional Intelligence" - EQ. Their EQ theory encapsulated four separate but related abilities:

1) Accurately perceive one’s own and other’s emotions.

2) Generate emotions to facilitate thought and action.

3) Accurately understand the causes of emotions and the meanings they convey.

4) Regulate one’s emotions.

I think both IQ and EQ are important traits of effective leaders.


Hughes, R, Ginnett, R & Curphy, G 2012, Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience, 7th edn, McGraw-Hill Irwin, New York.

Sternberg, RJ 1985, Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence, Cambridge

University Press, New York.

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Johnson Chau
Really insightful article about intelligence. Love to hear about your views on emotional intelligence!
This article brings together nicely the different components of intelligence all of which are critical for leaders to develop to be effective. Too often we focus or value Analytical and Practical intelligence, when as you say Emotional and creative Intelligence, could arguably be more important
Einstein was one of the greatest intellectual minds to ever exist. If only he knew how much the power of his words and inspiration effect society today!
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