Strategy & Marketing

Is Great Leadership Just About Intelligence?

I’m all for brains.  We need smarter people in all walks of life.  I worked hard to get a Ph.D. because I believe in the power of intelligence.  But I wonder if we sometimes get so distracted by trying to be the “smartest guy in the room” that we forget real leadership isn’t all about brains.   Look at the people around you right now – chances are, if the building caught on fire, the person who stepped up to keep everyone calm, organize them, and lead them safely out won’t be the
smartest person in the crowd.

Jack Graham shared some very interesting numbers with me the other day:

50% of CEO’s were C or C minus students
65% U.S. Senators were in the bottom half of their class
75% of U.S. Presidents were in the lower half of their graduating class
50% of millionaires never finished college

When it comes to leadership, it’s not just about intelligence.  After all, many college faculties are filled with brilliant people who will accomplish very little in their lives.  When it comes to leadership, never forget character, competence, chemistry, and passion.

Passion and commitment fuel your purpose – not just intelligence.


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  1. I suppose it all comes back to how you define intelligence.  Certainly there is a certain TYPE of intelligence that is seen in good leaders, or CEO's, or whatever else…  it just isn't necessarily academic intelligence…

  2. Leadership is not all about intelligence, but it helps to be passionate about the issues in  which you choose to exercise leadership.

    If you are passionate about something, you WANT to study and prepare for it. Hence, it is absurd for a English teacher to write poorly, or a world political leader to lack a basic understanding about geography and culture.

    In fact, lack of preparation often indicates apathy, carelessness or genuine stupidity. 

    On the other hand, intelligence is never a substitute for simple truths. Debt must be paid, lies don't last forever, 2+2=4 etc.



  3. If the building caught on fire, the one who would be centered and poised, is the one who is emotionally intelligent; knowing what to do and when to do it objectively and intuitively. Brainy people don’t often possess this kind of awareness IQ. Great leadership requires the ability to read people and intuitively understand the dynamics of  
    any given situation and not let emotions drive decisions.

    I think Intelligence is needed, but character supports talent, skills, abilities. Some of the most intelligent leaders in history have brought down their empires, kingdoms and countries single-handed because they lacked character. Intelligence can’t change or modify character. Character matters.  

  4. There are smart leaders that are basically managers and then there are those that lead. They are the ones you want to follow. You can have all the intelligence in the world but that still won’t make you a good leader.

    All you are is just a manager.

  5. First of all the motive is important: whether it is God’s calling and assignment or your own ambition. Then the best leader is the one who resembles Jesus (the greatest eader of all) through becoming more and more one with Him. Because in this case one quality of yours will cause the development of another one etc. in the exact succession and the right proportion.

  6. This is a tough blogpost to read, considering how difficult and frustrating it can be to work with incompetent people. I guess that’s why God created grace.

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