IQ and EQ in Leadership: Born Talent or Developed Skill?

A while back, I was driving while listening to Dan Goleman’s book on emotional intelligence. It made me think a lot about the question that keeps coming up: Are leaders born or made?

In the book, Goleman discusses the role of IQ and EQ in leadership and quotes research that shows that all leaders need a high IQ, or at least above average IQ, but it’s not the leaders with the highest IQ who are the most successful.

It’s clear that a good IQ is needed, but alone, it’s not a guarantee of success, and this is where emotional intelligence comes in and is a differentiating factor. It’s those leaders with higher emotional intelligence (EQF) who make better leaders and are most successful.

There are lots of arguments about whether our IQs are fixed or not and whether we can improve them. Personally, I’m of the opinion that nothing is fixed; we can always improve everything, but for sure, there is a base level that we start with, and the higher this base, the better off we are to finish with a high IQ at the end.

It is generally believed that our EQ, on the other hand, can be developed, worked on, and definitely improved.

So maybe this goes some way towards partly answering the born-or-made question.

Yes, we need to be born with a good IQ but to benefit from that IQ, we need to improve our EQ so we can improve our leadership.

Not wishing to sound arrogant, I do have a relatively high IQ, and it did allow me to study math at university and also look to take on leadership positions.

However, what has really allowed me to flourish as a leader has been the improvement in my EQ.

My increased self-awareness, my increased understanding of the need to interact and engage with people, and my ability to do that.

I would say 20 years ago I had all the makings of being a good leader, but it has been this development within my EQ that has really allowed me to take it to the next level and beyond.

I think a very simple test of whether a leader has good EQ or not is to look to see whether they think leading is all about them or whether it’s all about their team.

If it’s all about them, the leader, then they have poor self-awareness and, in my opinion, will be poor leaders with a low EQ.

I have worked with many leaders who felt that they were the sun and that everything revolved around them. When we have this thought, we don’t see the need for interaction and engagement; we just feel that we can issue commands from on high and people will follow them without question as we have higher intelligence.

This may have worked in the past or in some special situations, but not today.

Today, people need to be engaged; they need to be able to connect with their leaders and interact with them. This helps us influence people and get them to want to follow us, which is much more powerful than just issuing commands and hoping people will follow.

So where does this put me in the debate? Are leads born or made?

I really like the quote IQ gets you hired; EQ gets you fired.

It explains why we end up with so many bad leaders because they are selected first and foremost based on their IQ, and it’s only when their lack of EQ becomes an issue—and it will—that they may get fired.

We need to be born with the right IQ and intelligence to become leaders, but a high IQ alone is no guarantee of success. We need to develop our EQ to be able to best leverage our innate skills and become good or even great leaders.

So I guess this puts me firmly in both camps, and if pushed, I would say all leaders are born leaders because of their IQ, but great leaders are made because of their EQ, which can be developed.

What are your thoughts?

By the way, I fully recommend the book Emotional Intelligence by Dan Goleman, I have read it a couple of times and each time I read it I understand it a little better.

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