Research in the leadership literature has not yet identified links between childhood general cognitive ability and leadership potential in adulthood. We tested whether early cognitive ability contributed to leadership role occupancy across four decades in a sample of 17,000 working individuals from two representative British cohorts. On average a 1 standard deviation increase in cognitive ability predicted a 6.2 percentage point higher probability of leadership role occupancy. In Study 1, adjusted models showed that 37.3% of high cognitive ability children (+ 1 SD) occupied leadership positions compared to 25.4% of low cognitive ability (− 1 SD) children and this gap was even more pronounced in Study 2 (27.8% vs. 15.1%). Cognitive ability showed a graded association with the number of employees supervised in both studies and educational attainment partially explained the cognitive ability–leadership association. The results suggest that early individual differences in childhood general cognitive ability may profoundly shape trajectories of leadership across working life.
The IOC is a global community of coaches.