4 of 10: A Modern-Day Leader Doesn’t Need to Be the Smartest Person in the Room

navigator Leadership

(10 Principles of Modern-Day Leaders Series)

The paradigm of leadership has shifted over recent decades. With multiple generations in the workplace, a globally connected world, competitive job markets, demand for work/life balance, and fast-moving changes in technology, leaders need to adapt to changes and understand how to effectively connect with those they are leading.

In this ten-part series, we layout ten principles that modern leaders can lead with to be the most effective difference makers they can be.

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

We’ve heard this common phrase, right? The idea behind the quote is to surround yourself with smart people, have intelligent insights and conversations, and elevate the way you think to a higher level; all of which can be very important.

But a few years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a company president interact with his managers. He was, without a doubt, the smartest person in the room; well-read, knew the ins-and-outs of his business, had a good pulse on the economy, technology, and how systems within his organization should work.

During this interaction, each manager updated the group on the state of their respective areas / shifts. They presented on good things happening, areas of concern, and ideas to improve upon some of those struggles. There were some great ideas to improve production and to improve morale for the workers. Some of the managers had been doing their jobs for over a decade, and many of their ideas were strong and reasonable within the budget.

After an idea was presented, the president would become the center of attention. He would ultimately decide if an idea was feasible and if the company would consider moving forward with an idea.

Each time, he denied what his managers proposed without making an attempt to understand more. He didn’t ask questions. He didn’t ask for more clarification. He didn’t ask to set up a separate meeting or task group to work on carrying out an item. He simply said it wasn’t going to work without a second thought or consideration. You can imagine how the mangers felt when that meeting adjourned.

I realized that day that even though he was the smartest person in the room, he made it a disadvantage to the way he led. His managers had been there a long time. They knew better than anyone what was happening in their areas, and they had the insights needed to progress and make the area run more efficiently.

Instead of “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” maybe the phrase we should remember is “If you’re the smartest person in the room, it’s up to you to ask the right questions.

Everyone has value, and one of the most important tasks for a leader is to find the value in his/her people. This includes valuing their hopes & dreams, thoughts & ideas, and views & perspectives they bring to the table. Asking questions and gaining a better understanding of their ideas and perspectives will not only help a leader understand more, but let’s others know their voices are heard and their thoughts are important.

Even if the idea isn’t the greatest, remember that even bad ideas can spark a great idea if the right questions are asked. As a leader, rather than asking yourself “what do I know?”, ask yourself “what else is there to know?”

Pastor Andy Stanley says, “Close-minded leaders close other minds.” Being smart is nice, but regarding leadership, wisdom is key. We become wise by asking questions and put aside our need to be the smartest person in the room. Ask questions. Open other minds. Take a note on what you learn.

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

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