Can Super Smart Leaders Suffer From too Much of a Good Thing? The Curvilinear Effect of Intelligence on Perceived Leadership Behavior

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Abstract

Although researchers predominately test for linear relationships between variables, at times there may be theoretical and even empirical reasons for expecting nonlinear functions. We examined if the relation between intelligence (IQ) and perceived leadership might be more accurately described by a curvilinear single-peaked function. Following Simonton’s (1985) theory, we tested a specific model, indicating that the optimal IQ for perceived leadership will appear at about 1.2 standard deviations above the mean IQ of the group membership. The sample consisted of midlevel leaders from multinational private-sector companies. We used the leaders’ scores on the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT)—a measure of IQ—to predict how they would be perceived on prototypically effective leadership (i.e., transformational and instrumental leadership). Accounting for the effects of leader personality, gender, age, as well as company, country, and time fixed effects, analyses indicated that perceptions of leadership followed a curvilinear inverted-U function of intelligence. The peak of this function was at an IQ score of about 120, which did not depart significantly from the value predicted by the theory. As the first direct empirical test of a precise curvilinear model of the intelligence-leadership relation, the results have important implications for future research on how leaders are perceived in the workplace.

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