It is a common misconception that the smartest people make the best leaders. People who are known for their intelligence, wit, and problem-solving are proposed more for leadership positions, more so if they are charismatic and sociable. There is a certain ‘look’ that is associated with leaders and those who don’t have such ‘look’ are likely to be looked over when people are appointing or electing their leaders. If a person is smart, they are seen to possess the solutions needed and therefore the right people for leadership positions.
How important is intelligence in leadership?
Leadership scholar Northouse proposes five characteristics that make up good leaders. These are; intelligence, sociability, determination, confidence and emotional intelligence. Northouse shows that for a leader to be termed as an effective one, she must possess a significant share of these five characteristics. As we can see, being smart, or intelligence is one of them. However, it only makes one-fifth of the traits of an effective leader. To answer our question, therefore, being intelligent or smart is not sufficient to make you an effective leader, you need more than that.
What are the traits that make you a good leader?
Let’s start with intelligence. This is knowledge gained from learning and experience. Leaders are needed to give instructions and guidance as well as make decisions and solve problems. When they possess knowledge about the problem at hand, it is a good thing since they make decisions and give guidance from a point of understanding. We have had leaders, locally or internationally, that are not so smart and are often the ridicule of many. This is especially when they make decisions which almost everyone opposes as one wonders how someone smart could have made such a decision. Some of our founding fathers here in Kenya such as Tom Mboya were smart men in the right and therefore became influential people for their knowledge.
Famous people such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King are known for their leadership were exceptional performers in their school years. Even at a young age, people were already looking up to them for guidance. While being book smart is not sufficient for leadership, it contributes to a person’s intelligence. The other form of intelligence is one attained through experience. I am sure at work or in a community, you have come across some individuals who were not very well educated, but offer very good advice and guidance, mostly because they have experienced so much in their careers and life. Such individuals make good leaders since their experiences have made them rich in intelligence and they can make decisions based on situations they have faced in the past.
Another of the traits possessed by good leaders is determination. This is resolve or resolution to make get something done. Often, leaders take up roles to lead others to accomplish tasks that may seem impossible. It takes a determined person to lead people towards something that is not so clear, even to the leaders. Determination comes with persistent and strive whereby no matter how tough things can get, one continues to push through in the hope that they will achieve their goal in the end. You see, intelligence alone cannot give someone determination, it is a unique trait by itself.
Think in the event of an organisation whereby a strategic plan has been drawn and the leader is given the task to mobilise the people to achieve this task. This task could be such as achieve profits of XXX or open Y branches in 3 years. Everyone in the organisation may be wondering how this is possible especially if the organisation is not operating so well. Secondly, the efforts to achieve these goals may be faced by setbacks such as making a loss in the following year, and yet the goal is on the profit. Determined leaders are usually resilient not to lose their resolve when times are tough but instead, continue encouraging themselves and others towards achieving the goal.
When you are a leader, more often than not, you are likely to make decisions that are not popular with others. You face all kinds of opposition, some genuine and logical and others just political. It will require a lot of confidence to make decisions and stand your ground even when everyone opposes your grounds. This is why leaders need self-confidence. They also need confidence for the same reason they need determination, to lead the group even when conditions are not favourable. A leader is required to address the people often and they need the confidence to do so.
The most popular leaders in history are those who had charisma. The ability to develop relationships with others is often viewed as a favourable trait in leaders. The famous leaders that we know of are those that were able to capture the attention of the people and pass on their message. John Maxwell says that leadership is all about influence and sociable leaders are said to have more influence than those who are not. Does this mean that every kind of leader needs to be an extrovert? No, this is not true. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most respected leaders of all times and led masses of people, was an extreme introvert. In his biography, he speaks of how he was never comfortable talking to people and yet when he talked people listened.
Sociability, therefore, is not the ability to eloquently talk to masses, but the ability to develop relationships, with individuals and therefore with masses, in such a way that they end up trusting you to lead them. Referring back to intelligence and whether it is sufficient for leadership, picture a highly intelligent person but unfriendly such that they keep themselves out of reach with others and do not make the effort to create relationships. Such a person cannot excel as a leader based on their intelligence. What’s worse is the kind of people who use their intelligence to bring others down. When such people are in leadership positions, are likely to be detested by those they work with.
This is one of my favourite topics of all times, and I have read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman over and over. Of all the mentioned traits of good leaders, this is probably the most important. A person who is in control of their emotions tends to be more admirable than a person that just flairs off in anger. Emotional intelligence is being aware of your emotions as they take place, and therefore managing them as opposed to letting them manage you. Leadership positions can be very emotional. As a leader, you will experience anger, fear, joy, moodiness, and a lot of other emotions. How you handle these emotions affects those around you. Unless the movie The Devil Wears Prada seems very attractive to you, it’s not an attractive sight when the people who work for you run off tripping at the thought of you coming to your office. The most common emotion that many of us are unable to control is anger. Say you are a leader and something has angered you. Before you know it, you have lashed at everyone, called them names, broken a few things from the top of your table and made a complete fool of yourself.
First, you look very unstable to people who work for you, and they lose respect for you to some extent. Secondly, you have shown them that it is alright to behave similarly in the workplace since you are doing it, why shouldn’t they? Thirdly, no one wants to see you angry after such an event and they will, therefore, withhold information from you that they think will anger you, and this could be very beneficial information. The consequences of such behaviour at the workplace are endless, you can picture them. Emotional intelligence also calls for being self-aware enough to be comfortable with your position such that you don’t feel threatened by other employees when they work hard. There are leaders whose sole goal in the organisation is to suppress the growth of others since they feel threated by those who become empowered. Not only is this a very unattractive behaviour, it is not leadership. I could write endless things about emotional intelligence and its importance in leaders, but you get the idea. If you are a leader that is all forms of intelligent and smart but lack emotional intelligence, you lack one of the most effective traits to becoming an exceptional leader.
Conclusively, it takes more than just being smart to be a leader. You have to be able to create good relationships with others in order to create a following. You have to be confident and determined as well so that you earn the respect that comes with resolving to take a certain ground and taking responsibility for your actions. It’s also very important that your emotionally intelligent since your emotions can demolish all the good work you have created if you let them manage you as opposed to managing them.