Four Bad Habits of Super-Smart Leaders

“Some leaders are too clever for their own good” is an apt subtitle for this classic article by #1 leadership coach, Marshall Goldsmith. As a coach to scientists and program specialists in iNGOs, academia and development organizations, I see daily evidence of the statement that while we often consider the blessings that accompany a high IQ, we seldom think of the challenges that come with extreme intelligence”.

The journey of knowledge professionals typically goes like this: we do well in school, get into university and start a professional career in which we’re hired, promoted and rewarded primarily based on their knowledge, skills and technical expertise.

Marshall points out an important side effect to this journey of intellectual praise:

Smart people are generally considered smart because they have proven how smart they are in their journey through life – over and over again. They have been given lots of positive recognition for being ‘smart’.

Any human – or any animal – will tend to replicate behavior that is followed by positive reinforcement. The more we repeat the “I am smart – I get recognition” cycle, the harder it can be to remember the excellent advice from Peter Drucker: Our mission in life is to make a positive difference – not to prove how smart we are.

As an executive coach I use feedback, dialogue, and client self-reflection to help technical experts and managers work through the article’s four categories of dysfunctional behaviors that often gets in the way of a smart manger’s effectiveness: (1) Proving how smart we are, (2) Proving how right we are, (3) I already know that and (4) Why can’t they be me?

And this is not an easy transition from “it is all about me – proving I am smart, proving I am right, knowing all of the answers’  to it is all about my staff and team – ‘proving they are right and being proud of them having the answers”.

As Marshal puts it “There can be a huge difference between intelligence and wisdom. While smart leaders may spend their time proving how clever they are, wise leaders spend their time helping other people be the heroes.”



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