We’ve all met business leaders who always want to be seen as “the smartest person in the room.” Sometimes they really are highly intelligent. Other times they are empty suits. But it’s always wildly irritating to watch them swagger about. They are terrible listeners, they don’t contribute well to team goals, and often their communication is dripping with condescension.
So I was startled recently to hear one of my clients, a CEO, say that he always tries to be “the stupidest person in the room.” He is highly admired by his team for his strategic leadership, his accessibility, and his impeccable integrity. So why would he say that he wanted to be stupid?
He was making two important points. First of all, if you are always the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong rooms. You are surrounding yourself with people who have little to teach and less to offer than you do. The best business leaders seek out colleagues and team members who are smarter than they are so that they continue to grow and benefit from others’ ideas and insights. We all should have friends and colleagues who scare the heck out of us because they are so brilliant.
The second point is that if you see yourself as the stupidest person in the room, you are more likely to pay attention to what others are saying and incorporate their ideas with your own. It is so easy to dismiss or ignore others’ ideas, especially in today’s highly distracting environment. And sure, some ideas deserve to be dismissed — they aren’t very good. But if leaders believe that others in the room know more than they do, they are more likely to hear and recognize the gems that others may offer.
Believe me, my client is not stupid by anyone’s standards. But his goal of being “the stupidest person in the room” has served him well and is excellent guidance for the rest of us.