What Makes A Good Leader, IQ or Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence: “Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower 

Over the years psychologists, organisational behaviour experts and others have researched the phenomenon to understand what makes some individuals, leaders. Do smarter people make better leaders? Although the the obvious answer is “yes,” it depends on what you mean by ‘smart’.  Almost a century of research on basic intelligence better known as IQ suggests that IQ is slightly to moderately related to attaining a leadership position and to leader’s success. But that doesn’t always fit with people’s experience. Some who we consider geniuses don’t always make good leaders, for example, scientists, brilliant mathematicians, breakthrough artists. On the other hand, we see leaders who don’t appear particularly smart. So, IQ matters, but not as much as we might think. There are, however, other types of intelligence.


There has been huge interest in what is called ‘emotional intelligence’. It was Daniel Goleman who first brought the term ‘emotional intelligence’ to a wide audience with his 1995 book of that name, and it was he who first applied the concept to business with his 1998 Harvard Business Review article. In his research at nearly 200 large, global companies, Goleman found that while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership—such as intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision—are required for success, they are insufficient. Truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.


Qualities such as assertiveness, adaptability, and conscientiousness were cited as the most important. Is Emotional Quotient related to leadership? Yes. It’s important for creating good relationships between leaders and followers. Transformational leaders – leaders who are positive, inspiring, and who empower and develop followers – are better leaders, explains psychologist and leadership expert Ronald E. Riggio. Transformational leaders are usually described as enthusiastic, passionate, genuine and energetic. These qualities may sound soft and unbusinesslike, but Goleman found direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable business results.


SO how do we become effective leaders? The good news is that the competencies discussed above are pliable. They can be developed. Trainings in leadership development that are conducted by cognitive psychologists focus on development of emotional intelligence and social skills. Most large companies today have employed trained psychologists to develop what are known as ‘competency models’ to aid them in identifying, training, and promoting likely stars in the leadership firmament. The psychologists have also developed such models for lower-level positions. Rationality, emotional well-being and regulation, decision making and logical reasoning are all part of the competencies developed.

Headrush has rigorous corporate training modules for leadership development, via our Headrush Insights training arm. Click here for a list of Headrush Insights modules for Leadership.

For those looking for lighter, more fun modules for outdoor learning can check out  Headrush Outbound. For a detailed list of Headrush Outbound Activities – please check the Headrush Outbound Outdoor Activities section.


Bar-On, Reuven(Ed); Parker, James D. A.(Ed). The handbook of emotional intelligence: Theory, development, assessment, and application at home, school, and in the workplace.

Bass, Bernard M. (2008). The handbook of leadership (4th ed., with Ruth Bass).

Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1995)

Riggio, R.E., Murphy, S.E., & Pirozzolo, F.J. (2002). Multiple intelligences and leadership. Erlbaum.

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