Faculty Findings


Brain-Based Leading

Some years ago, a prominent politician delighted “C” students at Yale with the assertion that “you, too, can be President of the United States.” He wasn’t the first to suggest that traditional measures of intelligence don’t always predict leadership success.

Indeed, recent research by Management Professor Amy E. Colbert published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that “the relationship between intelligence and leadership is considerably lower than previously thought.” Colbert and two colleagues reviewed 151 independent studies that probed the intelligence-leadership connection, finding only a moderate link between the two.

When others’ perceptions rather than “pencil-and-paper” tools were used to measure intelligence, the authors found a stronger correlation to leadership. In other words, appearing smart may have a greater impact on perceptions of leadership ability than being smart.

So if brains aren’t paramount, what qualities do matter most? Leaders are usually extroverted, conscientious, open and emotionally stable, according to previous research. Intelligence is important when combined with attributes like motivation, persistence and dominance. Colbert says: “There’s a constellation of traits that make a leader.”

—Elizabeth Station


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