I’m Way Smarter than You!

 In Leaders, Personal Insights

By Eileen Habelow, Ph.D.

I’m Way Smarter than You.

Who would ever say that out loud?  Not many people would say that out loud, or even admit they were thinking it.

Here’s the catch – you can “say” it without using those words.  I see it all the time.  (And, I am guilty of it some of the time.). As with many ‘character flaws’, we are mostly unaware and our impact is mainly unintentional.

Are you the “passionate” one in the meeting that shares all of the great ideas at the speed of light because you are so excited?  Are you the “mentor” who is so anxious to teach someone how to do something?  Are you the “committed” and hard-working team leader who enters a meeting with an idea that is 90% thought-out, and you are looking for ‘feedback’ to your almost-final plan?

Unfortunately, if you reflect on each one of these scenarios from the perspective of everyone else in the room, you might begin to identify ways you are saying “I am way smarter than you” without really meaning to “say” it.

For the “passionate” – there is absolutely nothing wrong with being passionate at work.  In fact, we strive for all passionate employees.  It becomes a problem when your ‘passion’ creates a barrier for others to actively contribute.  When you fill the room with tons of great ideas and lots of energy, there is less space available for others to contribute their own great ideas.  Others might be more reflective.  If this is you, practice purposely creating space for others.  Ask open-ended questions and be comfortable in the silence, giving others plenty of time to contribute.  You benefit by getting ALL of the great ideas on the table and you benefit by engaging another who can become a fellow “passionate” colleague.  The book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, is a resource to help you build this capability.

For the “mentor” – your willingness to spend time with a colleague to help them develop is appreciated.  Mentoring can come in many styles – a mentor can be a role model, a teacher, or a coach.  If you truly respect the capability and competence of the mentee, how can you draw-out their ideas, uncover their thought process, and mentor them on how to think for themselves?  A questioning approach is critical — using a questioning approach that helps the mentee focus on the solution will build the mentee’s capability to perform on their own, faster than any other approach.  The book, Quiet Leadership comes to mind for building this capability.

For the “committed” – you work hard to create something for the team to start with, but when you present your idea as a near-final piece of work, people realize you have ownership.  Even if you invite feedback, you may not get important criticism if someone thinks you have put too much effort into the project already.  Consider instead coming to the meeting with an idea that is truly ready for exploration by the entire group. Or, if you must create some substrate to kickoff the discussion, rather than a near-final plan, why not think through to 60% of the solution or plan?  And, when you present your initial thoughts to the team, be clear it is only 60% and you are wide open for great ideas from others.  Take a look at the book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever to build this competency.

As you can tell, there is a theme here… if you want people to truly believe you want to hear what they think, know, and propose, ask more than tell.  It’s really that simple. And if you can practice the habits that make you a genuinely curious leader, everyone wins.

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