Plato argued that philosophers should be kings, based on the idea that ruling was best done by those with knowledge. While having the typical academic philosopher running the show would not be the best idea (but far from the worst), it does make sense to think intelligence would be an important trait for good leaders. After all, good leadership requires making good decisions and stupidity tends to be an impediment to success in this area.
As might be expected, the evidence does support this view: there is a strong correlation between perceived leadership effectiveness and intelligence. Interestingly, there is positive correlation up until the leader’s IQ is 120. Above that and the leader is perceived as less effective.
It is certainly tempting to embrace the stereotype of the bumbling and ineffective intellectual and think that these higher IQ leaders are simply bad at leading because of their intelligence. To use a fictional example, consider the Star Trek episode “The Galileo 7.” In this episode, Spock and several crewmembers from the Enterprise crash on a planet and are beset by hostile natives. In the course of the episode, Spock uses his logic and intelligence to make decisions—but fails as a leader until he takes a desperate gamble at the end to save everyone. The same, one might argue, can happen in the real world: a leader whose intelligence leads them astray when they try to lead. To use a real-world example, Jimmy Carter is sometimes seen in this light: clearly an intelligent (and compassionate) person, he was regarded as a poor leader in part because of overthinking things.
While this explanation has some appeal, especially in a political and social climate that is savagely anti-intellectual and anti-expert, it does not hold water. While there are obviously very intelligent leaders who are bad at leading, high IQ leaders are generally perceived as performing worse than their actual performance. As such, the problem is more one of perception of leadership than leadership.
It could be objected that this perception problem is a problem of leadership—that a good leader would be able to ensure that those they lead see their leadership effectiveness accurately. On the one hand, this objection does have appeal—a key part of leadership is getting people to follow and thus shaping their perceptions is important. On the other hand, it could be argued that the fault lies in the followers and the responsibility of learning how to perceive reality accurately lies on them.
In many ways, this challenge is analogous to that faced by educators. A very intelligent teacher who is presenting extremely difficult material to students who do not understand it might be perceived as foolish and mocked by the students. In contrast, a less intelligent teacher who presents basic material the students grasp might be seen as a very good teacher (especially if the students get good grades). In the education scenario, one could blame the students—they should put in more effort to understand the difficult material and in doing so would realize that the teacher they mocked knows their stuff. Of course, one could also blame the teacher: their job is not to show off their intelligence before uncaring students, but to teach them. As such, a good teacher must develop the skills needed to win the attention of students and the ability to guide them from ignorance to knowledge. In the history of education, the pendulum of responsibility tends to swing between these two points depending on the dominant educational theory and politics of the day.
A lazy approach is to take the middle-ground and argue that both intelligent leaders and their followers need to improve. That is, the followers should learn to assess leadership better and the high IQ leaders need to develop ways to connect to their followers and present themselves in a way that is not perceived as ineffective. This might, perhaps, involve dumbing things down.
Another approach is to put more of a burden on leaders or on the followers; which harkens back to the education analogy—the tendency is towards the extremes rather than the middle ground. This leads to interesting questions about the responsibilities of leaders and followers. Since the leader is in the position of authority and more should be expected of them, it does make sense to expect the leader to be responsible for ensuring that the followers perceive their leadership effectiveness accurately. But, going back to the teaching analogy, it certainly seems unfair to put all the burden on a teacher for making students learn and likewise for leaders. As such, the lazy middle-ground approach is perhaps the fairest: high IQ leaders, like high IQ teachers, need to ensure that they are understood. But, followers, like students, must also assume responsibility to make an effort to understand.