There is a saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.” Unfortunately, we all fall into the trap where we rely on our experience and position to, perhaps unconsciously, dominate discussions or presentations under the belief we already know the answers and the outcomes. In many instances, this has unintended consequences and, over time, will yield behaviors and results that are not optimal.
Much of our opinion and directive strategy may stem from instances that appear similar, but really are not. Remember: every presentation, discussion, situation, or meeting is different. There are different agendas, goals, personalities, outcomes, and objectives. In some instances, working to become the “smartest person in the room” is driven by ego and a need to “win.” Every leader should learn to “check their ego at the door.” Everyone who has a seat should have a say. You may not agree with what is being said, but create space for different angles, information, and points of view.
The opposite of the “smartest person in the room” approach is to cultivate an awareness and seek to participate in exchanges from a position of humility. It’s an acknowledgement you are valuing others. It’s the conscious separation of confidence and pride. It’s a demonstrated understanding of the “shadow side” of success (every strength has a shadow). Being humble is never a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a recognized and appreciated form of strength.
Dominating discussions and managing from an “all knowing” perspective intimidates others. It de-values their contribution, lowers self-esteem and confidence, and breeds a sense of distrust, dislike, and resentment. None of this contributes to a healthy organization or group culture. Once the habit is developed, it manifests itself on a repetitive basis. Wrong decisions, poor execution, and a culture of dependency and fear tend to permeate the organization or team consequently.
The Martial Arts has an analogy that illustrates the point extremely well. The concept of mastery within Martial Arts is captured by achieving a black belt. It is a symbol of work, technique, skill, and leadership. Any recipient of a black belt appears to have achieved the highest level within their respective art. However, this is the wrong perception, as any person who has attained this level of honor will inform you.
A practitioner of the Martial Arts starts, as any novice would, by receiving their white belt. This new person views their art with a sense of humility, wonder, appreciation, and a strong interest in accumulating as much information and skill as they can. This new practitioner understands the road to mastery is long, and no one person has all the answers. Only through constant training does the actual white belt become dirty, and eventually black. As a black belt continues to train, their cotton black belt frays and eventually becomes white!
As a leader, you are recognized for your business skill mastery. You are respected and admired as a business black belt and the experience you possess. It is a platform where you are capable of leading and developing new black belts.” Leading from a humble, but attentive perspective will generate exactly the types of leaders that will create respect and perpetuate your legacy. Work to avoid being “the smartest person in the room” and seek to become the most humble, reflective, and open person present. Your people will notice, and your culture will immediately benefit.
Personal Challenge: Make a conscious decision to take a humble and encouraging role in your next meeting, presentation, or discussion. Ask the same of others. Talk about “checking egos” and not being the “smartest person in the room.” Actively encourage open conversation without over-ruling or being dominant.