I recall sitting through a seminar not too long ago hosted by a well-known author and psychologist, Madeline Levine. I previously authored a post from that session titled Dealing With the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), but this time I wanted to focus on something else she said related to an article I read this morning.
Dr. Levine has been approached on many occasions by companies across many industries with a similar question. All of the companies can be considered top in their class, and therefore can go after top young talent from our nations leading schools (Ivy League, Technology, you name it). And though intelligence abounds in some of these recruits, invariably it isn’t enough.
The article that sparked the idea for this morning’s post is from Business Insider titled Why You Might Be Smarter Than Your CEO. As you might surmise, the article speaks to how intelligence is only one aspect of leadership.
In a way, this research is empowering: You don’t need to be a super-genius to succeed in business. Being an effective leader is more about having the right mix of qualities — like charisma, patience, and of course, intelligence — and being able to defer to someone who might know more than you do.
As I dug into this a bit more this morning, I really like the way an executive coach (Craig Ross) framed it out:
Pity the smartest person in the room:
• They have to speak first and last.
• They have to correct what other people say.
• They have to choose sides, agreeing or disagreeing. (They can’t discover.)
• They have to find flaws in others’ work.
• They have to do most of the work, because others have learned it’s pointless to give the effort.
• They must never be caught not knowing something.
Each time I think I am – or need to be – the most intelligent, I discover two things: It requires massive effort and results suffer.
Perhaps the smartest person in the room is the one who has learned they’re not. If this is you, thank you for your leadership.
Wow. It takes a certain amount of humility and courage (two topics I post frequently about) to be a leader who can be confident enough not to emulate the bullets above. Going back to the discussion from Madeline Levine, the question she often received was about how to deal with the sense of entitlement with some of the students produced from these top schools. The answer she supplied is as relevant to those companies as it is all of us.
Yes, you may be intelligent but that likely won’t be enough. You are owed nothing. Be willing to put in the work to receive the results. And be aware of your blind spots. This article Letting Go of Your Need to Be the Smartest Person in the Room offers some practical advice specific to this post … but find others you trust to be honest with you as well.