Leadership: More Intelligence or Emotions

Should a leader use mostly intelligence or should the emotions be primary in dealing with people, decision making…?

Some of the definitions of intelligence say:


  • Merriam-Webster: the ability to learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations; the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations.
  • Dictionary.com: capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
  • The free dictionary: The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge; capacity for learning, reasoning, and understanding; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.

And emotions are defined as:


  • Merriam-Webster: a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.
  • Dictionary.com: any strong agitation of the feelings actuated by experiencing love, hate, fear, etc., and usually accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking.
  • The free dictionary: A mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes; a feeling: the emotions of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate, and love.

There are studies that point out many reasons to believe that intelligence is related to leadership when job performance or complex job is in question. It is argued that successful leaders must gather, integrate, and interpret enormous amount of information. Creativity is also a mechanism linked to intelligence in leadership process. It appears that individuals believe that leaders are endowed with certain characteristics, valuable knowledge and have gained the appropriate profession all needed as potentials to lead.

Daniel Goleman brought the attention of a wide audience to the term “emotional intelligence” with his book of the same name back in 1995. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. For leaders, having empathy is critical to lead a successful team or organization as it enables the ability to put themselves in someone else’s situation. For scientists intelligence is a crucial parameter. They have to think and invent. They do so mostly in their heads. Is this high level of expertise a useful tool in leading people? The same can be questioned by “Is the leader the smartest person in the room?”

CreativityStudies by Fiedler show that when under stress, intelligent leaders’ attention “resources”, that could otherwise be devoted to planning, problem solving and creative judgment, are instead focused on worries over possible failure, crises of self-efficacy, and evaluation anxiety. Is this what a leadership is about?

I think the issue is not so duo polar: intelligence vs. emotions! It has to have much more in it and therefore I would argue that for a “perfect leader” some intermediate path is the key to success: having both, intelligence and emotions.


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