Does IQ Determine Success? A psychologist intervenes
It’s not everyday you have to worry about being outwitted by a toddler. Then again, it’s also not every day that a 2-year-old becomes the youngest member of Mensa.
Isla McNabb, a young Kentucky resident with an IQ believed to be in the 99th percentile, went viral after being accepted into the Global Society of High-IQ Individuals in May. Its advanced intelligence has left many amazed and predicting more awesome feats to come for the precocious preschooler.
His story begs the question: does a child’s high IQ prepare him for a career or financial success in the future? According to psychologist John Antonakis, the answer is essentially yes.
“[IQ is] the single most important predictor of success at work,” Antonakis, a professor of organizational behavior at the Swiss University of Lausanne who focuses on leadership and management research, told CNBC Make It. very robust and very reliable.”
In 2012, psychology researchers at Vanderbilt University found that people with high IQs tend to earn higher incomes, on average, than those with lower IQs. Previous studies have also shown that a high IQ is relatively reliable in predicting academic success, job performance, career potential, and creativity.
Antonakis says that a high IQ is an especially notable predictor of success in very complicated and skilled professions like physicist, engineer or even neurosurgeon. But don’t worry, he adds: You can still be very successful without being a Mensa member. A few other skills and traits also contribute to your career success and overall happiness.
Personality still matters
The correlation between IQ and professional or academic success at school and work is “a no-brainer,” says Antonakis. After all, your IQ – short for Intelligence Quotient – is a measure of your ability to reason, process information, and use it to solve a problem.
“The modern definition of intelligence is the ability to learn,” says Antonakis. And the greater your capacity to learn – to improve yourself, acquire new skills and make informed decisions – the more likely you are to perform well at work and advance your career.
But plenty of research shows that success requires more than IQ. According to psychological studies, being outgoing and friendly, confident, open to new experiences, and well-organized are all important personality traits that can help you move forward in life.
In other words, a lower IQ doesn’t necessarily doom you to an unsuccessful or unfulfilling life, especially if you’re working to maximize your strongest skills and traits. “You could do another job [that] requires good social skills,” says Antonakis. “If you’re pleasant and if you’re outgoing, that’s fine. You can still succeed.”
Success can also be defined in different ways, from annual income to overall happiness — and IQ isn’t such a strong predictor for the latter, according to research.
IQ makes leaders more effective, but communication is key
A high IQ can be a reliable predictor of success, but it’s not a guarantee. Antonakis says context matters: for example, someone with a high IQ working in a relatively uncomplicated role might not thrive, simply because they’re not interested in it.
“There must be a match between the requirements of the position and the characteristics of the person who will occupy the position,” says Antonakis. “So, of course, if you put someone who is too smart in the place of a janitor, they’re going to be bored, they’re not going to be challenged enough.”
You should also consider how this person’s work might be perceived by people who do not share the same level of intelligence. Leaders can get in trouble if their IQ is significantly higher than their team’s, and employees can also run into obstacles if they think they’re smarter than their boss.
Antonakis’ own research shows that high IQ leaders perform better than less intelligent leaders. Not surprisingly, a 2013 study found that Fortune 500 CEOs are generally overrepresented among the top 1%, in terms of cognitive abilities.
But, there is such a thing as being too smart, especially when it comes to perception.
“You have to be smarter. But if you’re too smart, people won’t identify with you. [and] they might find you too aloof,” says Antonakis. “And it’s harder to lead if the [IQ] the gap between the leader and the supporters is too big.”
This is where communication is key. Antonakis cites highly intelligent leaders, from Barack Obama and Bill Clinton to Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill, who used their communication skills and charisma to present complex strategies in digestible ways to win large swaths of followers.
Researchers have described this ability as emotional intelligence, or EQ. Antonakis posits that EQ is actually an IQ factor: if you’re a smart enough leader, you’ll figure out how to communicate your ideas in the most persuasive way possible.
The bottom line, he says, is that the person with the highest IQ in the room may not be guaranteed the greatest success — but they certainly have a head start.
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