Why leaders need ‘IceQ’

| September 29, 2018

Three attributes provide the foundation required for great leaders. And the balance needed between the three elements can vary.


It’s no surprise intelligence ranks as the first element. While definitions of intelligence abound, a single definition isn’t needed. Rather, we can identify a set of leadership skills or abilities that need reasonable iQ.

First, leaders need the ability to understand the environment in which they operate. And that doesn’t mean they can explain quantum physics. If they’re business people, they need to know their business market. If they’re political leaders, they need to understand the political machine. If they’re military leaders, they need a grasp of warfare. Great leaders can see patterns in their environment and observe changes in those patterns.

Second, leaders must interpret what they perceive. They must be able to translate what changes in patterns mean for the group they lead.

Third, they must plan effective responses. They need to weigh up alternatives and choose one for the group to follow. They must often make fast decisions.

It takes a reasonable iQ to understand, interpret and respond to a complex environment. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist. In fact, there’s a study published by the British Psychological Society that suggests a negative correlation between a high iQ (above 128) and leadership.


The second element is creativity. Again, definitions of creativity abound, and again we don’t need a precise definition. Great leaders create something different to the current situation. They reshape their environment for the better. To create the change, they must first imagine how things could be different and better. They must see potential and they must see a path to release that potential.

Michelangelo was able to look at a block of granite and see the statue of David. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to look at 1960s America and see a nation without racism. Mahatma Gandhi could see an independent India and a peaceful path for getting there. All these leaders displayed high cQ.

It takes high cQ to envisage an environment that’s new and better, and to see the path for getting there.

Emotional intelligence

The third element is emotional intelligence. We can think of this as people skills. Leaders can’t get anything done without the support of their people. Great leaders create a vision, then inspire and motivate their people to pursue that vision. And if they don’t get their people onboard, nothing will happen. Without eQ, the rest doesn’t matter.

A person with high intelligence who creates a plan has little impact if no-one adopts the plan. Another person might develop a wonderful vision for the future. But, if no-one buys into the vision, that person will not become a great leader. People must trust the leader, have faith in the person’s ability to develop a suitable plan and be willing to follow.

It takes high eQ for people to want to follow a leader.

The three elements of iQ, cQ and eQ form the acronym ‘ice’. And that’s a fortunate acronym, as sometimes leaders must make cold, hard decisions. They must, at times, have ice in their veins.

In war, military leaders send their troops into harm’s way to achieve a goal. In business, leaders sometimes make staff redundant to ensure the health of the organisation. In sport, teams sometimes remove players who aren’t performing. In each case, there’s a greater good. But that doesn’t make the decision easy.

Great leaders can make the decisions for the greater good regardless of how it makes them feel.

Different Combinations

Different leadership situations need different combinations of iceQ.

Some environments are so complex, that only a person of very high iQ can lead. If you’re responsible for a space mission or for a team of leading-edge surgeons, you need to be smart.

Other environments need high cQ. Most people would ascribe high cQ to Steve Jobs. He had the ability to envisage products that no-one knew they needed…until they saw the products.

Other environments need higher eQ. This is particularly true where more informal influence is needed. Picture a group of volunteers helping a charity. They’re helping because they want to do so. But, if they don’t like where the leader is taking them, they can walk away at any time.

Filling in the Gaps

Great leaders have another attribute. They understand where they aren’t strong. And they surround themselves with people who can fill those gaps.

Great leaders have a strong combination of iQ, cQ and eQ. They have the right mix of those three for the environment in which they operate. They have the ability to make cold, hard decisions when needed. And they know how to fill the gaps in their own make-up when needed.

Think about the leadership environment in which you operate. What’s the best mix of iceQ for that environment? If you’re a leader and you recognise you don’t have the ideal mix, consider how can you fill the gaps.