Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Smartest Kid in the Class

Who can tell me the name of the capital of Honduras?” 

A lone hand waves enthusiastically in the back of the classroom. 

“Come on, hasn’t anyone besides Mary done homework?”
In response, there is a long pause and blank stares.

“Okay, Mary, enlighten us.”

Mary’s face beams with confidence: "The capital of Honduras is Tegucigalpa?" 

"You are right, Mary; thanks for coming to our rescue once again!"

Most of us can remember the smartest kid in class; that student who always seemed to have the answer, aced the toughest tests, always did the homework, and of course, captured the teacher’s favor. We can remember how this child was practically venerated by some children. She had a magical quality.

Perhaps you were this kid or worked hard to be like her. If so, you may have achieved much success in your life. Your intellect may have been a key factor in your “climb to the top.” 

For a business leader, however, being “the smartest kid in the class” and attempting to come up with all the solutions is a recipe for failure. Perhaps you've been in meetings where a top executive strains mightily to demonstrate that he has all the answers. This executive believes that this behavior validates his position: “I’m the top guy; I am expected to have the answers.”

Unfortunately, this conduct often has the opposite effect; it can make the leader look weak and insecure. Leading through others implies an ability to subordinate your ego to the larger group. It means controlling inherent primitive and competitive impulses, like the desire to prove your worth.

As a leader, your job is to create an environment that encourages and supports problem-solving. By asking insightful questions, challenging the team to be honest, and setting the pace through careful listening, you are developing future leaders; you are leading. Most importantly, you will end up with the best answers. 

Leaders are often assertive, impatient, and driven. They have a high achievement motivation which fuels their success. When this high energy is recognized and channeled into working through others, success is more likely to follow. These leaders are respected and recognized as inspirational individuals who help talented people reach the next level---and it sure beats being the “smartest kid in the class” every time.

1 comment:

  1. Tim,

    You have identified the attributes of what it takes to be an effective leader in these uncertain times.
    Having the awareness to realize that you do not have all the answers and to therefore ask your team for help is the mark of a self-confident leader that others will willingly follow.

    Larry Tarman