Imagine you're interviewing for two jobs. One is for a position where you'll be overseen by a wildly brilliant boss whose intelligence is legendary. At the other gig your boss would be a bright guy, but not someone known for their exceptional intellect. Assuming all else is equal, which job do you take?

For lots of folks this is a no brainer -- of course you'd take the job at the firm whose leadership is blessed with exceptional intelligence. A super smart supervisor is more likely to lead your team to success, and also more likely to help you stretch and expand your own skills.

This is a totally common sense answer (and one that lots of best employer lists, topped as the are by firms led by big-brained bosses such as Facebook and Google, seem to support) but according to a fascinating recent Scientific American article by Matthew Hutson, the picture is far more complicated than just 'smarter bosses do better.' 

In fact, new research shows that leaders with high intelligence --, i.e. an IQ over 120 or higher than 80 percent of people -- are actually often seen as less effective by their teams. When it comes to perception at least, there is apparently such a thing as being too smart for leadership.

No one likes to work for an awkward egghead.  

Which isn't to say that super smart bosses actually perform worse. When objective criteria are used to evaluate leaders, higher IQ correlates with higher performance, studies show. But things are far more complicated when you ask employees to evaluate their leaders.

Recent research by psychologist Dean Simonton of the University of California, Davis and colleagues asked 379 business leaders from around the world to take an IQ test and also asked their reports to rate the leaders' effectiveness. What the researchers uncovered wasn't a straight upward line showing higher IQ linked with higher employee evaluations. Instead, employees' opinions of their bosses peaked around an IQ of 120 and then fell off significantly. (The exact peak varied by industry.)  

Given that other research demonstrates egghead leaders actually outperform their less gifted peers, what's going on here? The researchers think the problem may come down to communication skills. "Brilliant leaders' words may simply go over people's heads, their solutions could be more complicated to implement and followers might find it harder to relate to them," Hutson writes.

Charisma training to the rescue

The takeaway here, according to the scientists behind the study, definitely isn't that companies should shy away from hiring super smart bosses. Nor should brainy would-be leaders feel discouraged and assume they'll struggle in management roles. Instead, the lesson is that those gifted with exceptional brains need to be hyper aware of how they communicate their ideas and actively learn strategies to increase their charisma.

"I think the only way a smart person can signal their intelligence appropriately and still connect with the people is to speak in charismatic ways," another study author, John Antonakis, tells Hutson.

Thankfully for the big brained and ambitious there is no shortage of advice and science-backed tips out their on building charisma and improving your ability to communicate complex ideas.

Published on: Jan 25, 2018