“If you are the smartest person in the room then you’re in the wrong room”
Michael Dell founder of Dell Computers has a similar quote “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people……..or find a different room”
As managers, what does this mean?
Logically the smartest person in the room should be the manager. After all, who will provide the direction and manage the organisation?
Quite clearly this is wrong. Why?
The people who think they are the smartest person in the room tend to have the last say and rarely listen to or acknowledge different ideas or opinions. Many show their distain or disinterest by interrupting others in mid-sentence or displaying negative non-verbal traits such as rolling their eyes, looking away or checking their phone. I can remember organising a leadership training program for our Rotary Club for local businesses and organisations. A local council put up several candidates and one refused to attend stating “I have an MBA so I don’t need leadership training”
It would have been a waste of time and money for them to attend, not because of their MBA but because of their attitude.
However, learning should continue throughout your life, both at work and outside work. Learning does not stop with finishing school or a degree. People only learn and grow when being challenged. Being the smartest person in the room often means that you will not be challenged. Great managers surround themselves with people who challenge them as they realise that to continue to be relevant and innovative, you must be open to new ideas and concepts. By valuing other’s opinions and accepting that you are not always the smartest person in the room, healthy, constructive and sometimes heated debates will help your organisation and help you.
A business owner I know, who would be very smart and is well qualified academically, has failed to grow his business as profitably and quickly as planned. While he is a pleasant, polite and intelligent, he is rarely challenged and appears to not listen to others. He claims he has little time or interest to read books. It would seem that these circumstances had adversely affected his staff turnover and business. Staff initiatives and ideas appear to be stifled. Being in charge does not mean you have all the answers. I have found that some of the smartest people can be found anywhere in an organisation, you just need to find and develop them. Many years ago, while working for a transport business I found a driver who had the attributes and energy to become a qualified driver trainer. Despite initially being hostile to management. he turned his experience into a new position, where he greatly added to the business by training drivers, thereby reducing accidents, injuries and fuel consumption. Furthermore and probably more importantly this improved his motivation and morale, and his own self image.
As managers we probably all have the tendency to act as the smartest person in the room.
The challenge is to resist this temptation without of course, abdicating your responsibility as a manager.
Here are 3 suggested approaches:
- Ask more questions and listen for the answers. Questions are powerful leadership tools (Questions and Answers) Resist telling people what to do and respond to ideas with questions to help you and others better develop their ideas. Seek first to understand before offering your own perspective.
- Have the courage to remain silent and help others decide. This does not mean that you cannot veto an idea or approach. Through using open questioning techniques ideas can be modified or adapted in a constructive way to get the best outcome.
- View ideas as a ‘glass half full’ not ‘half empty’ as it is a positive approach. People respond to the positive rather than the negative. Negative discussions should only centre around risks.
As a manager can you resist the temptation and follow these approaches?
These approaches often challenge us as managers, although they highly likely to engage and motivate our subordinates, make them feel part of a team and allow new ideas and approaches to surface. You will be challenged.
Why don’t you ‘give it a go’?.………………….