IQ is the Best Predictor of Leadership Potential

I’ve heard countless conversations about the importance of emotional intelligence (EI, also known as emotional intelligence quotient or EQ) and leadership. The school of thought is that EQ plays a significant role in leadership development and business success.

At this year’s Halogen Software Customer Conference, I attended a fascinating session about leadership development that, in part, explored the relation of IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ with leadership performance. It wasn’t what I was expecting. And, it got me thinking.

Dr. Henryk Krajewski is president of the Anderson Leadership Group, a consulting firm that advises organizations on leadership, strategy, and talent. I enjoyed his session, so I wanted to share his thoughts with you. He graciously accepted.

IQ, EQ, leadership, Halogen, predictor, potential, leadership potential, test, Anderson Leadership Group

Let’s start with some definitions. Can you give readers a brief explanation of how you define IQ and EQ?

IQ, EQ, leadership, Halogen, predictor, potential, leadership potential, test, Dr. KrajewskiIQ is your ‘mental ability’ or ‘reasoning ability’ which is another way of saying your total intellectual horsepower.

EQ, or emotional intelligence, is also best defined as an ‘ability.’ I like Salovey and Mayer’s definition of EQ as, ‘The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth.’

What’s interesting is that EQ is rarely measured this way – as an ability vs. a set of personal traits and motives (e.g., achievement, warmth, openness, empathy).  If you’re going to measure something hoping to use the results to make conclusions about people and roles, it’s imperative to measure the right thing!

This area is still evolving rapidly, with lots of work yet to be done; however, I favor use of the MSCEIT authored by Salovey, Mayer and Caruso to measure EQ as it implies EQ is an ability. The measure has been shown to be quite different from personality, and it correlates to performance in a business setting.

During the Halogen Software Customer Conference, you talked about IQ being a predictor of leadership potential. Could you share the reason IQ is a good indicator?

Indeed, it’s an intimidating thought that IQ – which is commonly thought to be hard-wired and difficult to change or develop – governs our future, maximal performance. However, it makes sense that an individual who is able to analyze complexity in numbers, language and spatial tasks can come up with more right answers and make better overall decisions. The ability to anticipate variables, manage risk, and forecast events is complimented by greater mental ability. In fact, research shows that mental ability increases in importance the higher you go in the organization, as complexity of the job increases.

Does this mean if I have a genius IQ that I’m a better leader? Why or why not?

No, having a genius intellect doesn’t mean you’ll be a great leader. For example, I think we’ve all seen the ‘technical leader’ that excels in his or her field, or ‘savant-type’ leader who lacks interpersonal skills.

Although mental ability has been demonstrated to be the single best predictor of performance for leaders, it’s not the only predictor, nor is it only important one. Certainly, other elements like one’s personality, one’s past behavioral patterns – and yes – one’s EQ, all predict important, non-overlapping components of leadership ability. In other words, you wouldn’t use only IQ to select leaders, but overall, if you were on a desert island and you could choose just one predictor, the science says IQ would be your best bet!

There have been dozens of articles talking about the importance of EQ in leadership. If IQ is a predictor of leadership potential, where does EQ fit into the picture?

I recall a recent CareerBuilder survey where, out of 2600 hiring managers, 75% said they value emotional intelligence in an employee more than IQ. Clearly, EQ provides an ability to read situations and people and anticipate the best responses to produce the best outcomes, for you, your team, and the people around you. So, a high IQ without any EQ doesn’t seem so desirable, although I think the reverse is also true. Therefore, both are important to measure and account for.

However, what is less appreciated is how important – and difficult – it is to choose the right EQ assessment. The question is: how will you measure EQ, and does that method really capture the competency you want to measure. I come back to the point that there are competing definitions of EQ and how to measure it. For example, if you’re using one of the very popular EQ assessments that treats EQ as a constellation of traits, then you could likely just as well use a measure of personality. And, some of the most popular EQ assessments out there don’t have the predictive validity evidence that one assumes they would have. I can’t emphasize this “selecting the right test” issue enough for hiring managers.

Ultimately, I think we would agree that leaders should have both IQ and EQ. What types of activities can individuals do to make sure they are fully developing their potential?

In terms of EQ, one needs to recognize its importance, attend to it, and develop a strategy. For example, before you walk into a meeting, you should spend 5 minutes thinking about who will be in the meeting, what they are likely brining to the meeting emotionally (e.g., have you seen them under pressure, have you seen them happy and carefree?  Are they typically more analytical or reactive?), and what your strategy is to manage these variables.

Once in the meeting, one needs to validate initial assumptions by attending to facial expressions and body language. Checking in and validating emotions (e.g., ‘it sounds like you’re frustrated by the process,’ or ‘it sounds like you’re just going along but have different ideas’) is also critical to diagnosing the situation, getting people engaged and producing a solid outcome. It sounds pretty simple, but as usual, it’s much harder to do than say. The key is getting people to make this kind of preparation a habit…and get them practice so they can develop some confidence around applying it. That’s where a good leadership development program comes in.

Lastly, if I want to learn more about IQ, EQ and leadership development, are there any books or resources I can refer to?

Frankly, being evidence –driven in my approach, I try not to recommend the latest, greatest pop-business or pop-psychology book on these subjects. Some of the ideas laid out in such books are intuitive and seem to make sense, but unless they’re proven, I resist the temptation to adhere to them.  The best advice I can give is to dive into the research if you’re looking to answer a question – and that doesn’t need to be intimidating.

For example, if I want to see whether EQ test ‘A’ has some evidence of predicting job performance, simply search those terms in Google Scholar and see what you can find in terms of tests that are widely available. The research isn’t the only answer, as it too can be flawed, but it provides a deeper level of understanding and some evidence to go on.

In terms of leadership development, one really needs to appreciate how we’re educating leaders and how that impacts knowledge retention and application. If there is one thing that I think could be done better across the board, it’s in covering less over a longer period of time.  Our experience matches the research here such that covering just a few issues deeply – I’m talking about 2-3 areas of focus over the course of a year or more – is the key to developing better leaders.  And, if you’re not giving leaders a structure, time, space, and reward to practice new behaviours, I can’t see how you can expect them to change.

Many thanks to Dr. Krajewski for sharing his knowledge, expertise and resources. I really learned a lot and hope you did, too. If you’d like to hear more about IQ, EQ, and their role in leadership development, be sure to follow Dr. Krajewski on Twitter.


  1. says


    Thanks for this fantastic post. This is a really balanced article – rather than “IQ is best!” or “EQ is the way to go!”, Dr. Krajewski provides an insightful look into how we should select and develop leaders. I especially appreciate his observations about providing the space for focusing on just a few areas for improvement. I do wonder, though if that advice falls on deaf ears, given the fast pace of business.
    Jennifer V. Miller recently posted..How Narrow Is Your Company’s Definition of Leadership?

  2. says

    Jennifer, really appreciate your comments. Regarding providing time and space for Leadership Development — we need to help companies break the old mold of “vinyl trophy” workbooks and “Manager 101” types of survey courses that obviously don’t work!

  3. says

    Sharlyn thanks for sharing this great post and insightful Q&A with Henryk. Having worked so closely with The Anderson Leadership Group, I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Henryk and dig deeply into some of the material he’s shared in our leadership development program. And although I was somewhat intimidated when he shared the concept of IQ being the biggest predictor of leadership potential 😉 he does an amazing job of explaining the evidence based science behind it! I’m so glad you had the opportunity to sit in on his conference session – you both shared such engaging, strategic content with our attendees.

  4. says

    Thanks for the feedback everyone. I think Henryk’s comments remind us how complicated leadership really is. There is no index card with six things on it that will make us great leaders. We have to constantly work at our leadership skills.

    It was great fun attending the Halogen Software event. I learned a lot.

  5. says

    The leader must be alert to the dangers both of an individual’s exploiting the group and of the group’s exploiting an individual. A problem inherent in group activity is that of how much freedom of expression and action the individual members should be allowed. the quality of the group’s leadership largely determines whether the rules are aimed chiefly at establishing an orderly situation or at limiting the individual members.
    leadership recently posted..Personal Qualities Of a Leader