Professional success can (not) only be explained by IQ
From: Linda Coldewey
Why are some people more successful in their profession than others? Intelligence is of great importance, but it cannot always predict future performance. Self-control and grit, for example, also play an important role.
Professional success is not an easy construct, yet there is great interest in understanding what makes some people more successful than others. In addition to the well-researched intelligence quotient (IQ), there are newer findings that provide information about which non-intellectual abilities determine professional success.
Success in professional life is not only of social and economic importance, but is also very desirable and an important goal for many people besides a satisfactory private life (Dette, Abele & Renner, 2004). A look into the Duden reveals that success is generally understood as the positive result of an effort (Duden, 2018). What exactly constitutes professional success, however, is perceived very differently by people and also in science the definition is sometimes very blurred (Dette, Abele & Renner, 2004). In addition, professional success is also influenced, for example, by organizational or leadership-specific factors, so that only individual characteristics of people are to be considered in this text.
Research has been looking at why some people are more successful in a professional context than others for some time. This is also of interest for organizations that want to attract employees who perform well and are successful in their respective positions. So, what are the qualifications, competences or personality traits that lead some people to outstanding achievements? What should organizations look for when hiring new employees or deciding on further development?
Good findings on the relationship between IQ and professional success
The scientific evidence is quite comprehensive with regard to the relationship between IQ and professional success. Several meta-analyses with samples from the USA, Europe and Germany (Hunter & Hunter, 1984; Salgado, Anderson, Moscoso, Bertua, de Fruyt & Rolland, 2003; Hülsheger, Maier and Stumpp, 2007) have shown that general mental abilities, i.e. the way people learn, understand instructions and solve problems quickly, correlate clearly with different criteria of professional success and are the best predictors for vocational learning and work performance (Kramer, 2009). There have been methods for measuring the intelligence quotient since the early 1990s. This enabled research to formulate statements on the correlations and effects of intelligence (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005). IQ is therefore strongly related to academic, social and professional success and represents the most meaningful single parameter (Nisbett, Aronson, Blair, Dickens, Flynn, Halpern & Turkheimer, 2012; Lackner, 2012, p. 188).
Newer findings on self-control and grit
With regard to non-intellectual strengths, such as self-control, it becomes clear that these have not been researched to such an extent and therefore less outcomes can be formulated.
However, one study showed that self-control, the ability to regulate attention, emotions and behavior in the presence of temptation, could better predict students’ academic performance than IQ did. A statement could be made about which students would be better than others over a period of one year. Although IQ provides information about a person’s analytical abilities, it could not predict the future performance in this study (Duckworth, Gendler & Gross, 2016; Duckworth & Seligman, 2005).
In addition to the findings on self-control, there is recent research on the relationship between grit, passion for long-term goals, and future professional success (Duckworth & Gross, 2014; Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly, 2007). A study examined which qualifications explain the difference in the effectiveness of teachers’ work, as common indicators, such as the existence of certificates, were unable to explain it. It was shown that teachers with high grit and life satisfaction performed better and tended less to quit their jobs (Duckworth, Quinn & Seligman, 2009).
In her book Angela Duckworth (2017, p. 41-44) presents an interesting theory, which tries to explain the connection between talented people and performance or success. For this she used the two factors talent and effort. Talent is how quickly a person’s skills improve when they invest and make an effort. Performance, in turn, is what happens when the skills acquired are used. Of course, other factors, such as a good coach or simply luck, also have a considerable influence, but these cannot and will not be reflected in theories. However, one thing becomes very clear: When people are in identical contexts, only talent and effort count. Talent counts, but effort counts twice in the equation.
Using the tried and tested and expanding it with newer findings
The new findings from research are also important for organisations and illustrate once again how difficult it is to predict professional success and to break it down to a few factors. It is therefore even more important that organisations ask themselves what qualifications, competencies and personality traits are important for a particular position and what makes a successful employee in that position. Research has already provided many insights into the relationship between personality traits such as IQ and professional success. These will remain but it is still worth taking a closer look at the findings on self-control and grit and to consider how these can be applied in organisations and here for the selection and further development of certain employee groups.
Dette, D. E., Abele, A. E., & Renner, O. (2006). Zur Definition und Messung von Berufserfolg: Theoretische Überlegungen und metaanalytische Befunde zum Zusammenhang von externen und internen Laufbahnerfolgsmaßnahmen. Zeitschrift für Personalpsychologie, 3, 170-183.
Duckworth, A. L. (2017). Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secret to success (S. 41-44). London: Vermilion.
Duckworth, A. L., Gendler, T. S., & Gross, J. J. (2016). Situational Strategies for Self-Control. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11(1), 35–55.
Duckworth, A. L. & Gross, J. J. (2014). Self-Control and Grit: Related but Separable Determinants of Success. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(5), 319-325.
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.
Duckworth A. L., Quinn P. D., & Seligman, M. (2009). Positive predictors of teacher effectiveness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(6), 540-547.
Duckworth, A. L. & Seligman, M. (2005). Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents. Psychological Science, 16(12), 939-944.
Duden (2018). Erfolg. Unter: https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Erfolg
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Lackner, M. (2012). Talent-Management spezial: Hochbegabte, Forscher, Künstler… erfolgreich führen (S. 188). Wiesbaden: Gabler Verlag.
Nisbett R. E., Aronson J., Blair C., Dickens W., Flynn J., Halpern D. F., Turkheimer E. (2012). Intelligence: New findings and theoretical developments. American Psychologist, 67, 130–159.
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