I’ve never had an IQ test and, now I think about it, I realise I never wanted to. Not because I didn’t care but rather because I cared too much. Intelligence (I assumed) was the all important mark of whether I’d be successful. And perhaps that was an understandable assumption: the teachers’ mantra was that future success rested on performance in GCSEs, A-levels and a University degree. The fear of being average meant I never wanted an IQ test: if I performed averagely I’d be categorised for ever as mediocre.
I now consider this ‘IQ = success’ formula woefully mistaken. It’s at best a half-truth and if I had read the Bible more carefully I would have spotted that. Quite apart from the fact that Jesus turned success on its head (‘and whoever wants to be first must be your slave’ Matt 20:27), the most influential leaders are not just those with the highest IQs.
After graduating, I worked in Executive Search (aka ‘headhunting’). One of the privileges of this role was the opportunity to interview some of the most influential business leaders in the UK. Hobnobbing with FTSE 100 Chief Executives and Chairman was part of the job. What struck me was these leaders were not the most intelligent people I’d met. No doubt all have high IQs; the complexity of the problems they face require above average IQs. But few, if any, had super IQs. Also I frequently met more junior people who, despite far higher IQs, hit a glass ceiling.
The research explains my experience. Leadership is about influencing people. IQ can only take you so far with that. IQ is impressive, it might mean you’re right, but it doesn’t make you good at bringing people with you. Psychologist Daniel Goleman writes in the Harvard Business Review: ‘I have found … that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.’ IQ is largely a threshold capability, the most successful leaders demonstrate outstanding EQ; they have outstanding capabilities to understand people, understand themselves, manage relationships, empathise, motivate and build trust and rapport. These ‘soft’ skills are the hallmarks of strong leadership.
Had I read my Bible more carefully, I’d have known this all along. The examples are endless. The list requirements for church leaders in 1 Timothy chapter 3 says nothing about intellect, but speaks of a godly character, gentleness, respectability and self-control. The defining characteristic of Jesus’ personality was not his IQ (though in Luke 2 the 12-year-old Jesus shows an extraordinarily high IQ) but rather his love for others, his humility and his insight into people. The wisdom Solomon imparts to his son in Proverbs is predominantly relational rather than intellectual.
Above all, we worship a God who hasn’t merely sent fallen people clever arguments to win us back. Instead we worship a God who came in person, stepped into our lives and shared our weaknesses, to bring us into relationship with him.
(Photo: Markus Spiske)