I work with a lot of technical leaders in a variety of industries. They are incredibly smart people and they’ve gotten to where they are through their technical ability and knowledge. In their world, meetings are often akin to contests to see who is the smartest. Each person is vying to win the day by demonstrating they are smarter than the next person. The sad thing is by acting this way, they are slowing and even stopping their career progression.
‘What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There’
Marshall Goldsmith said it well. “What got you here, won’t get you there”. Marshall is one of the world’s top coaches and a very wise leader. He is saying the skills that got you to your current level aren’t the ones that will advance your career further. In my experience he is spot on, especially for technical leaders. Every technical leader I’ve met is very intellectually smart. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t. But what sets them apart are their soft skills, and there is nothing soft about these skills.
The role of a leader is to set a vision of the future and bring others along with them to achieve it. Afterall, big, meaningful visions requiring many people to achieve them. Solo heroics aren’t going to cut it. People choose to follow a leader because they are inspired by them. And here’s the problem, constantly demonstrating how smart you are has the opposite effect. It isn’t inspiring, it turns people off.
I learned this lesson myself as an aspiring senior leader. I decided to pick fault in an executive leader’s organization plan, largely to demonstrate how smart I was. It did the opposite, demonstrating how dumb I was. In effect, by showing how smart I was, it pointed out how stupid I thought the executive leader was. That didn’t turn out well and I got what I deserved.
I would have been much better served by using a different approach, building a bridge. Instead of putting the other person down, I could have explored their point of view and built a bridge to connect our two different perspectives. I would have learned about their reasons for the change, and they may have learned about some limitations I saw. In this instance, we would both have ended up better off.
The next time you feel like demonstrating how smart you are, stop and take a breath. Be curious, direct your attention to learning about the other person’s point of view. Why do they see things differently than you and what can you do to bridge that gap? I guarantee you will achieve a much better outcome than putting the other person down, even if you don’t intend to.