You Have Permission To Not Be The Smartest Person In The Room

I give you permission. For what, you ask. I give you permission to not be the smartest person in the room. As a leader, I know you are tasked with being the official question answerer, as you should. I get it. A firm understanding of the function that you are leading and managing is paramount, but what if you said… I don’t know? Would you survive? Could they survive? Is not knowing even possible? I know it’s possible, but is it wise? Want to know why? Because you are surrounded by a team of professionals who get it, and many of them are probably better at their job than you are at leading it.

Let me write that again, many of the people you lead are better at doing their job than you are at leading it, and at the end of the day, they are making you look good not the other way around.

So, please jump off your high horse momentarily Mr. Know It All and meet us common folk down here at ground zero. The goal of your function is to deliver results, correct? It doesn’t matter who comes up with the solution, as long as it’s right, right? Then why do you feel like you have to have all the answers to questions that are being asked and probably the ones that are not, as well?

Here’s my thing:

People support a world that they help create. I picked up that little diddy from Dale Carnegie. You wouldn’t have to explain to your team why they should want to live in your house if they helped build it. Of course, they want to stay in it because it’s their house too. They’re not just financially invested, but emotionally and mentally. You don’t have to sell me on something that I helped build for my well-being.

People can figure out the answers for themselves. If you feel like you are in a situation where everybody acts helpless until you provide guidance, then you probably are enabling the issue. It goes back to the old “give and teach a man to fish” adage. By answering every single answer or swooping in to solve every single problem like you are wearing a cape made out of your self-righteous indignation you are fostering a culture of helplessness. Sometimes you have to let people figure out stuff on their own.

Most of us learn best through doing anyway, so let them experiment – “Experiments lead to experience.” – Shell Brummell | “Let them fail; don’t let them die.” – Shell Brummell

It’s okay for them to get it wrong as long as it’s on the path to getting it right. Assume the person does not have the answer but do not assume that they are stupid. Ask them what they think should be done, stand back, and watch the sparks begin to fly. You will be surprised at what they come up with.

You can’t learn when you are always talking. What I am saying may be a hard pill for you extroverts, but it is possible to be in a room full of people and not be the life of the party. Just fight the urge to keep your mouth closed for a little bit longer than you normally would, and you might learn something from somebody you didn’t know you could learn something from. YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THAT YOU WOULD POSSIBLY SAY IN A CONVERSATION. So try this, listen.

Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to learn something new without one-upping the speaker’s thought to talk about the time you almost experienced something similar that one time with your friends at band camp. I promise you don’t have to regale others with stories of your exaggerated excellence every time you join a conversation. Sometimes it’s just better to listen and learn.

It’s annoying. People with all the unsolicited answers are annoying. Enough said. Nobody likes you. People will even go so far as to acknowledge your intelligence to others behind your back, but will qualify it with a “but…” you can assign some words to those dots. They will purposefully go out of their way to avoid talking to you. So stop, just stop.

Emotional Intelligence is one of those things that people who seem to have all the answers don’t have. That’s the ability to recognize the emotions within yourself and others, and use those emotions to manage the situation at hand. You’re not managing the situation because you are completely oblivious that there is a situation. Nobody likes you, bro.

The issue is not that you might have the answer, but that you offer it at the wrong times. A real leader, friend, colleague, whatever knows that best way to help others learn is to help them figure it out themselves. You have to kill the culture of dependency. Yes, it will reap quick benefits, but when you have to step away from the while, will those you support be able to function without you? You do not want to create an accountability vacuum where you are the end all be all. Spread the love.

A wise person or a book told me (I forget which one) that leaders don’t just assign responsibility, but they also assign accountability. And when you assign accountability you have to know that what you get back won’t always be the best, but if you stick with it and them, it will be better. They will be better, and ultimately you all win. So hand over your cape superhero, you won’t be needing that – unless you know the upsets for March Madness – I need help with my bracket.

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