How (NOT) to Be a Leader – You’re the Smartest Person in the Room

How Not to Be a Leader Chapter 3This week we continue the serialization of, How (Not) to Be a Leader Volume 1, in preparation for the next two books, How NOT to Build a Great Team and How NOT to Create a Winning Strategy. We hope you will enjoy Chapter 3 You’re the Smartest Person in the Room.


Sent: Monday, July 25 at 8:30 am

From: CEO

To: Executive Team

Subject: My Ideas

Meet me in the conference room at 9:00 am as I have some great ideas of mine that I want to share with you.

One of the benefits of being a great leader is always being the smartest person in the room. It’s important to maintain that brilliance and, more importantly, to make sure everyone else sees it. After all, if the rest of them were as smart as you, they’d be in charge, wouldn’t they? Look at where they are and where you are. Pretty easy equation.

So, let’s talk about how you stay on top of this amazing gift you have to impart: your perceived intelligence. First, flaunt it at every step. For example, if there is a meeting or conversation going on and you know even a little bit about the topic, jump in with a random factoid (it doesn’t need to be a factual factoid, however) that shows you’re the expert. When you spout factoids of your own making (loudly and with confidence and authority) no one will dare question you. And if you do it repeatedly, you’ll build the muscle memory that helps them remember that everything you say is true.

If someone dares contradict you, stand your ground, for this is brilliance in and of itself. Defend, defend, defend. A leader never gives any ground as doing so would cause those you lead to question you, which is completely unacceptable.

Occasionally, you will find that some in the room have more education than you or others, in rare cases, might even be right. The way to deal with them is twofold: First, ask yourself why you hired them in the first place, and never make that mistake again. Second, reassert your dominance through volume and interruption immediately. Let them continue talking, but interrupt by randomly peppering them with questions so that they become flustered. Then tell them to get their facts straight next time and leave it at that.

Another approach for dealing with this type of annoyance is to be very quiet while they talk. Let them finish, then slowly start clapping your hands. When you have everyone’s attention, say to this person: “You get the gold star today. I was purposely waiting for one of you to come up with the right solution and you did it! I knew the answer, but I wanted to see if any of you were fast enough to pick up on my clues.” This will blow them away every time, and you get to claim their idea while maintaining your status as the most brilliant person in the room. Mirror, mirror on the wall, why do they even try?

The final point on maintaining your brilliance is that you need to be very careful when hiring. You do not need anyone smarter than you around, so if a candidate seems even remotely better educated, more knowledgeable, more experienced, or in any way smarter than you, don’t hire them. Never ever hire anyone who might be perceived as smarter than you. Why risk it?

Let’s Get Real

Great leaders recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with talented team members who complement those strengths and weaknesses and those of other colleagues. Growth and innovation are born out of everyone learning from one an­other in a never‑ending cycle of mentorship. If you are arrogant enough to believe that you have all the answers or are always right, you will stunt or prevent both the personal enrichment of your people and the positive evolution of your organization.

Your job as a leader is to focus and shine light on the contributions of others, not yourself. If you need validation and seek it from within your organization, you may not be ready for true leadership. Genuine leaders are validated by facilitating others’ success. If you need a pat on the back, reach right around and give it to yourself. Good job!

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