Why You Should Never Be the Smartest Person in the Room!
I recently read a sign that said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” I stopped and pondered that for a few minutes. I found that it resonated with me and I immediately thought “that has the makings of a good topic for Contemplation Corner.”
While I wanted to give credit for the source of my inspiration, my research revealed that the quote has been attributed to a number of people. However, the lack of someone to whom I could attribute the quote did not dampen my enthusiasm to explore with you in writing why you should not be the smartest person in the room.
While being the smartest in the room may certainly be good for a person’s ego and perhaps their self-esteem, when you are the smartest person in the room there are some negative consequences as well. When you are the smartest person in the room four things happen:
- Everyone looks to you for the answer,
- You frequently end up with the hard jobs,
- You limit your access to learning experiences, and
- You limit your leadership accomplishments.
Now, let’s explore those four concepts.
Everyone looks to you for the answer. When you are viewed as the smartest person in the room and a question arises, people have a tendency to look to you for the answer. When people rely on you to provide the answer rather than struggling with the problem solving process it has a negative impact on the problem solving process. Research shows that when only one person is involved in problem solving, the breadth of information brought to bear on the problems is almost always narrow in scope. This may result in a less satisfactory solution than would have been possible if others participated in the problem solving process.
You frequently end up with the hard jobs. Just as there is a tendency to look to you for problems solving skills if you are the smartest person in the room, there will also be a tendency to assign you all the difficult tasks. The “group think” is “Why should we talk on this task, if he/she is so much better at it than we are. Let’s just give the job to him/her. Not only will the job be done better, but it will be easier for us just to let him/her do it.”
You limit your access to learning experiences. One question that occurred to me when I started this column is “How will you ever have an opportunity to learn anything if you are always the smartest person in the room?” When there is no one in the room smarter than you, then you have obviously limited your chances of learning something new.
In fact, when it comes to increasing your learning potential, the smartest thing you can do is to be around people who are smarter than you. If you surround yourself with people smarter than you, you will learn at an accelerated rate and be more energized by the knowledge gap.
You limit your leadership accomplishments. When I assumed my first leadership/management position years ago and started studying “leadership,” I read some sage advice – “Great leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are.” Again, I cannot find the source for the quote, but it has always stayed with me.
In fact, I now believe that the way to determine a leader’s competence as well as his/her confidence is to look at the people around them. The great leader knows that by surrounding himself/herself with experts in a variety of areas, the organization fares much better than if it is dependent only upon the leader’s expertise. Good leaders surround themselves with good people, but great leaders surround themselves with people better than themselves.
Great leaders understand the four concepts explored in this month’s column and surround themselves with people who support their leadership, who challenge them, who push them to never stop growing, learning and perfecting their craft.
The willingness to surround yourself with smarter, more talented people is a sign you are willing to be an effective leader. Take a chance, surround yourself with the best you can and see how much more effective your organization will become.