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Great Leaders Are Not The Smartness In The Room

The most influential businesses are built on the smartest people – not on one person. 

A newly minted CEO held a meeting with his executive team to discuss the company's growth. One of the CEO's direct reports recommended how the company can grow its market share in the next five years. The CEO, listening very attentively, was clueless about his manager's suggestion. He wondered, "should I ask a question, but if I do ask, that will reveal my lack of knowledge, and I may appear incompetent."

    Today, most CEOs believe that "not knowing" will somehow send a signal to their staff that the leader is somehow inept. Some people think a leader should have a complete set of skills, characteristics, and abilities to handle any problem, challenge, or opportunity that comes along. This myth of the "complete leader" can cause stress and frustration for leaders and their team as well as do damage to the organization’s reputation over time. It's time to end this myth, and according to Deborah Ancona et al., the sooner leaders stop trying to be all things to all people, the better off their organizations will be.

Great leaders aren’t know-it-alls who continuously try to outshine everyone. They admit when they’re wrong and genuinely want to learn from others. It’s not about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about building a team with the most intelligent people you can find. You become an inspirational leader when you have the humility to build a team with people smarter than you. No one person could possibly stay on top of everything. But the myth of the complete leader (and the attendant fear of appearing incompetent) makes many executives try to do just that, exhausting themselves and damaging their organizations in the process.

The incomplete leader knows when to let go; for example, before Richard Branson created his business empire, he grappled with dyslexia. Branson said this forced him to master the art of delegation, a skill that many intelligent people struggle with, and he quickly found people who were much better at things he wasn't capable of doing. The incomplete leader builds leadership and knows that leadership exists throughout the organizational hierarchy and has a distinct advantage of tapping into expertise, vision, new ideas, and commitment when necessary.

By contrast, many incompetent managers and "leaders" attempt to foster trust, optimism, and consensus but often reap anger, cynicism, and conflict because they have difficulty relating to others. Anyone can bark out orders. It doesn't take strength to yell at people, write them up or blame them for mistakes. It doesn't take courage to boss people around in private and public when the organizational chart gives them the power to do that. It is the height of cowardice to manage a team with the presumption that they have to listen to you because of your job title relative to theirs.

     Managers who bluster and threaten people are weak and fake leaders who bully people all the time and don't have the muscles to manage any other way. They believe leaders should have all the answers, someone with superhero powers who should try to be everything to everyone, but these "so-called Leaders" often get burned out and lash out aggressively when things don't go as expected. Some people think a leader should have a complete set of skills, characteristics, and abilities to handle any problem, challenge, or opportunity that comes along. That's the height of incompetence. A real leader doesn't intimidate anyone.

     They don't need to, and they wouldn't dream of it. Incomplete leaders create a complementary balance of people around them to help the organization achieve its vision, goals, and objectives because they are uniquely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. An incomplete leader takes the time and invests his/her energy into building a team because real leaders know that the key to successful leadership is influence, not authority, according to Ken Blanchard.

As a leader, your best move is to intentionally not be the smartest person in the room. And other iconic figures would agree. As Lee Iacocca once said, “I hire people brighter than me and get out of their way.” Great leaders know that their team is the backbone of the company. Any success the organization achieves comes from their employee’s love of the company, the belief in the vision, and a strong attachment to the company’s purpose. Remember, leadership is not about you; it’s all people; inspiring, motivating, developing, and genuinely caring for people to become the very best version of themselves.

About The Author

Can you inspire your team's hearts and minds every day?

Inspiration creates the highest levels of engagement, it is what separates the best leaders from everyone else, and it is what employees want most in their leaders. The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible was written to help all leaders successfully navigate all the disruptions in today fiercely competitive world we need a new generation of leaders who care deeply for the well-being of their team and who understand that their people are the heart of their leadership. Each chapter in this book will push you to become the leader you were destined to be; a leader of influence, a leader of value, a leader of vision, and most importantly, an inspirational leader. Click Here For Your Copy.

I am the founder of Leadership First, an organization committed to publishing the very best inspirational leadership quotes and articles from the best leadership minds in the world. We are dedicated to helping every leader create an excellent organization and to provide a daily cup of inspiration for all leaders.

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