The Smartest Guy in the Room
In the second half of the 19th century British politics was dominated by two titanic figures, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Both were politicians of extraordinary ability and both served as Prime Minister on more than one occasion. They loathed each other however and had different leadership and personal styles. There is a famous anecdote about Gladstone that after meeting him your left feeling that you had just met the smartest person in the world. Conversely, after meeting Disraeli you left feeling that YOU were the smartest person in the world. It was an important and enduring difference between the two men.
It reminds me of a new CEO I came across one time in a business meeting. Early on he announced to everyone within earshot that “one of the things I assume whenever I attend a meeting or gathering of any type is that I am the smartest guy in the room. Consequently I mostly make all the decisions myself.” Yikes! It was a dumb move. What he did in 3 seconds was downgrade the COLLECTIVE intelligence of his entire team to below his one. Even worse he did it publicly. It showed no respect and it immediately deflated his team. They retreated into their shells, became disgruntled and eventually lost their care factor. A great culture, carefully crafted over many years, began to unravel because of the stupidity of an egotistical fool claiming to be the smartest guy in the room.
Thinking you are the smartest guy in the room is a dangerous position to take. You can’t be smart/good at everything, you can’t know everything nor can you do everything yourself. You’ll need other people and you’ll need them to support you.
The best leaders understand that. But they also know that leadership is much more than just being a “feel good manager.” They are demanding of their people. They expect a lot but they give a lot back too. They want to discover, access and develop the very best parts of their people’s talents. They provide a safe environment in which they can challenge and stretch them to their limits but are careful not to break them. Working with leaders like this is not always comfortable and it can be confronting. Inevitably some people won’t cope and will move on. The payoff for those that stay can be an exhilarating ride and a richly satisfying experience of self-discovery and achievement.
In the end the best leaders know one immutable (and hard) truth – that their effectiveness as leaders will be determined by their ability to influence others to believe in them and their mission. They know it is not important to be the smartest guy in the room – they know it’s not even about the leader – it’s about the quality and productivity of their team and the leader’s ability to unlock and capitalise on its full potential – that is the essential goal of leadership and in the end the only thing that really matters…
Article by The Bull
Liz Wiseman’s great book “Multipliers” is a must read if you want to learn more about how great leaders operate and how they amplify the intelligence of all those around them.