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  • Writer's pictureBrian Faulkner

A good leader doesn't need to be the smartest person in the room.

One of the responsibilities of a leader in any organization is to identify and develop other potential leaders from their team. What came as a surprise to me in this capacity was that a leadership candidate’s superior intelligence didn’t always work in their favour when they actually took on a leadership role.

For example: there was one young engineer in our company that I thought had all the tools to be a great project manager. They had a brilliant mind, a great work ethic, lots of enthusiasm, were highly creative/innovative, delivered on their commitments and demonstrated ambition. They were even blessed with good looks. We promoted them to a project management role and were surprised and disappointed with the results. Inevitably any team they led struggled – unmet deadlines, exceeded budgets, high levels of turnover, a general lack of harmony and trust. And it seemed that the manager was always dissatisfied with the quality of the people assigned to their team. Before long we were struggling to get the best performers in the office to work with this manager.

The problem was the manager’s brilliant mind and how it played out with the team. Regardless of the engineering discipline involved, whenever a team member brought forward an idea or presented the work they had produced the project manager had a better idea or saw a flaw or simply ignored what was presented and instructed them to take a different approach. It’s not that the manager’s thinking was wrong – usually their ideas were better. The issue was that the people on their team gradually shut down because, “Nothing I do is ever good enough, so I’ll just wait for them to tell me what they want”. But even the smartest person can’t generate the output of a team and so the overall results from their teams were poor. I’ve seen this dynamic play out in various settings over the years, hence the acorn – “a good leader doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room”. Of course, a leader should not sit by and let their team move ahead when they can foresee the problems that will result. But they need to get their better ideas on the table in a way that demonstrates respect for the team members and communicates that their contributions are highly valued. In other words, a really smart leader needs to dedicate some of their “IQ” to developing their “EQ”.

What is your experience? Have you ever seen a “too smart” leader who shut down their team? Or have you ever been the leader that was too smart for their own good?

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