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The Smartest Person in the Room

When you go to a meeting, are you the smartest person in the room? In working with a line supervisor on how to improve communication, we talked about the important role of some support personnel. The line supervisor looked at me and said, “The problem with that [support person] is that he thinks he the smartest person in the room!” And that struck me as universal leadership challenge.

As a consultant, I am really just staff for hire. My work is dependent on my ability to be a “subject expert” in people skills. So I am constantly striving to increase my skills and provide that expertise to my clients. I understand my role yet more often that I would like to admit, I am guilty of sharing “my” knowledge in an attempt to impress those in my presence.

Here is the challenge for all of us influencers, avoiding the label of the smartest person in the room. That label rarely motivates others to action. In fact, that title often elicits the exact opposite result, resistance.

What does motivate others to action is humility combined with thoughtful suggestions for the problems the other person, or team, is facing.

To do this requires an intentional mindset of serving rather than teaching. This is counter intuitive to most of us. So many of us got grades, promotions, or clients based on displaying our knowledge. People skills were given short shrift, and that is the problem.

Dale Carnegie summed it up best in two principles in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

  1. Try honestly to see things from the others person’s point of view.

  2. Let the other person feel it is his idea.

To do this requires putting your agenda on hold and focusing on the other person’s perspective first. Secondly, asking his/her opinion of ideas you have and/or suggesting, “you  may want to consider” one of your solutions seems to create the atmosphere for achieving outcomes everyone wants to put into practice.

The smartest person in the room makes sure he/she is never called that by the others. Carnegie closes his chapter with a 25 century old comment by Loa-tse, the Chinese sage:

“The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage, wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.”

Stay humble my friend!

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