Understanding the Correlation Between Intelligence and Leadership Part 1 of 2

Understanding the Correlation Between Intelligence and Leadership Part 1 of 2
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Effective leadership entails ‘getting the job done’ through high quantity and quality standards of performance while ensuring the satisfaction and commitment of the people who do the work at the same time. Emotional Intelligence skills help a person manage and monitor emotions, gauge the emotional state of others, and influence opinions. Research shows people with good emotional intelligence having what it takes to become effective leaders.

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Self Awareness

Self awareness is the ability of a person to recognize feelings, perform self assessments, and have self confidence.

A self-aware manager understands not just his own strengths and limitations, but also the strengths and weaknesses of the subordinates, allowing him or her to lead effectively. He is also able to handle stress and control impulses, besides managing his time better, creating an effective work-life balance. All these are essential qualities of good leadership.

A 1999 study in Pennsylvania State University by John J. Sosik and Lara E. Megerian links emotional intelligence and leadership by indicating self-awareness as the foundation of other aspects of leadership. It also suggests that self-awareness may provide individuals with greater perceived control over interpersonal events and consequences in their lives, and that transformational leaders with self awareness possess high levels of self confidence and self efficacy to provide orientation for followers.

Self Management

Self management, also known as self control or self regulation, is the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check, maintain standards of honesty and integrity, own responsibility for one’s performance, and handle change and innovation when required.

All these traits are hallmarks of a good leader.

Good leaders do not lose their composure and tend to remain cool and composed during moments of crisis. Such leaders radiate confidence, and people feel safe and confident working with these individuals.

Social Skills

Social skills are the ability to induce desirable responses in others by persuasion, effective communication, inspiration, collaboration, and other ways. This trait requires empathy, or the understanding of others through awareness of their needs, perspectives, feelings, and concerns

The shift from a manufacturing economy to a value-added, service-oriented economy places a premium on relationships at the workplace, and the key skills for the success of a leader depend on effective communications, managing conflict through negotiations and resolving disagreements, inspiring and guiding individuals and groups as a leader, initiating and managing change, and collaborating with others toward shared goals.

A common requirement for fulfilling these key leadership demands is the possession of good social skills.

Research suggests people with higher-than-average emotional intelligence as being good at building relationships, putting people at ease, and mending broken relationships.


Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Motivation includes meeting a standard of excellence, alignment of goals with the group or organization, acting on opportunities, and persistence to reach goals despite set backs.

James A. Belasco and Ralph C Stayer (1993) list four key responsibilities of a leader:

  1. Transfer ownership of work to the people who do the work.
  2. Create an environment where the transfer of ownership takes place and where each person becomes responsible for his or her own performance. This requires leaders to clearly define ‘great performance,’ engaging each individual’s heart, mind, and hands in the business of the business, and energizing people around the business focus to achieve ‘great performance.’
  3. Develop individual capability and competence.
  4. Create a learning organization, where organizational conditions challenge employees to always learn.

These four principles align personal and company goals through emotional intelligence.

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Case Study

A 1999 study by Patricia Pitcher validates the positive correlation between emotional intelligence and leadership. This study involves a company led by one CEO with high emotional intelligence and succeeded by a CEO without emotional intelligence. The first CEO with high emotional intelligence took over a medium-sized company and transformed it into a global corporation worth $20 billion dollars. Under the second CEO, the company was dead in three years.

The reason for the success of the first CEO was his inculcation of emotional intelligence traits that helped him attract and retain talent and investors. His accurate self assessment allowed him to surround himself with the right people; his emotional and inspiring traits allowed his enthusiasm to spread; his visionary, daring, intuitive and unpredictable qualities helped him to keep focused on the goal and avoid short-term gratification; his open-mindedness contributed to developing and retaining different kinds of people ensuring new ideas and fresh approaches to problem solving; and his empathy rallied people around him.

The second CEO, a technocrat, was in contrast analytical, uncompromising, and brilliant who centralized the decision-making processes and curtailed authority, but lacked emotional intelligence. This stifled visionary thinking, creativity, and innovation, causing the company’s death.

The qualities of a true leader are integrity, self-knowledge, enthusiasm, vision, purpose, pursuit of goals, and honesty; and these same qualities also describe the various facets of emotional intelligence.


  1. Bliss, Samuel, Bellevue University. The Affect of Emotional Intelligence on a Modern Organizational Leader’s Ability to Make Effective Decisions. https://www.eqi.org/mgtpaper.htm
  2. Belasco, James A. & Stayer, Ralph C. (1993) “Flight of the buffalo: Soaring to excellence, learning to let employees lead.” Warner Books (New York, NY). ISBN 0446517097.