The Smartest Guy in the RoomBy Joan Lloyd
As a kid he was always bored in class. He took a tough curriculum in college and sped through it, with honors. He had plenty of job offers and took a position that enabled him to use his talents and shine. So why isn’t he getting promoted five years later? In fact, he was just pulled off a cross-functional team project and was appalled that the project leader role was given to someone he considered inferior in intelligence.
“I think he got the project because he was kissing up,” he said. “They are going to fall flat on their face without me. They don’t have the technical capacity and knowledge I have.” He may be right about the intellectual contribution he provided but the project was crashing because of him.
Why? Because he thinks he is the smartest guy in the room and his behavior was a turnoff to others on the project. They resented his arrogance and his refusal to listen to the ideas from the group. It was clear he thought he was the only one who could solve the problem. He dismissed their offers to help and tried to be a one-man team.
Complaints started among the team –quietly at first. But over time, their frustration grew and it started to leak out in wider circles. The negative reputation started to spread like oil in the water.
The noise about him reached his boss’s ears and he was pulled from the high-visibility project. When he marched in and demanded to know why, his manager said, “You don’t play well with others. You need to be more collaborative and build a working team that is going to be engaged and buy in to the final solution. I was hearing too many concerns about you trying to do the project on your own, without the team.”
He was angry and frustrated. For most of his life, he could win by being smart and driven but now it wasn’t enough.
He was lucky. His manager arranged for him to work with a coach. It was going to take some rewiring and some new behaviors to get his career back on the rails—and he had a big hole to dig out of —his peers had already decided he was a jerk.
Collaboration skills are prized in the modern organization and in many jobs are more important than intelligence alone. I can think of few jobs where an employee can succeed in isolation today. Most organizations have morphed from a siloed (vertical hierarchy) to a matrix structure. It’s common today to have “solid line” and “dotted line” reporting relationships, where the solid line is the “real” boss and the dotted line is the internal customer, or co-dependent peer. If you can’t collaborate with others, your career will stall.
How are your collaboration skills?
· Do you seek out the opinions of your customers and other stakeholders? Do you really listen to their advice? Then, do you get back to them to tell them how you used their suggestions? Most people don’t close the loop and miss this opportunity to build the relationship and make colleagues feel valued.
· Do you wait to offer your opinion until most people have offered theirs? Or, are you quick to jump in and push your opinions on others. Even if their ideas aren’t completely solid, there may be a nugget that is valuable. And listening to them will make them more inclined to hear your ideas, too. Paraphrasing can curb your desire to speed ahead.
· When you are the project leader, do you facilitate meetings so everyone is heard? Creating a safe place for people to share their ideas is a key to the success of a team. If the only voice in the room is yours and the heads around the table are simply nodding, you aren’t doing your job.
· Do you make it safe for team members to challenge each other and look for the best solutions? If some people are silent for too long, you are missing something. Often, they’re silently disagreeing, or finding a flaw but hesitating to speak.
· Are people showing up for your team meetings and acting engaged? If they start finding reasons to leave early, show up late, or not at all, they are telling you they feel it is a waste of time.
· Do you know how to ask good questions? Or are you too busy talking? People who are full of themselves don’t learn to ask good questions because they think they know all the answers.
· Have you worked on your facilitation skills? Do you know how to create a process that focuses the team on the right work at the right time? Do you pay attention to the group dynamics—or are you so down in the details you forget you are leading the team, and not the sole problem solver?
Ironically, the smartest person in the room is the one who makes everyone else feel they are smart, too.