Mark Twain is attributed with saying, “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.”
The fastest and most effective way to attract followers is to be an authentic leader. Have you ever heard anyone get excited about following a know it all?
Being bright will earn you respect, but it doesn’t guarantee success. I’ve heard it said of partners and managers, “he is very smart, but he is so abrupt and difficult to work with no one wants to be around him.” Technically brilliant, socially abrasive. A recipe for disaster.
Jim is a very successful partner in one of the Big Four accounting firms who will retire this year. Jim has a very high IQ and holds multiple Masters degrees. When he first began his career he realized that he was not very effective with people. He said, “I usually had a quick response and knew the answer to most problems. As a result, I would shut down dialogue when in a team meeting and people began to withdraw and just wait for me to give them the answer.”
By the time Jim became a manager, he learned to “play dumb”, as he called it. He taught himself to ask others to help him figure problems out and would tell them he wasn’t sure if his approach was accurate. Jim said an amazing thing happened. People would jump right in and began to help him figure things out. Over the years, this technique became an authentic practice for Jim and he became an esteemed partner and leader with many followers.
It takes a disciplined, self-confident and humble person to play dumb and ask questions even when he or she knows the answer. In my mid-twenties I met Jeanette Groepper, a wise teacher and business owner. She would always ask questions that you knew she knew the answers to. This was her way of learning a persons thought level and understanding of a situation. I’ve observed many leaders who just can’t restrain themselves when it comes to flaunting their intelligence. This will hinder them from becoming the leader they might have been.
Knowledge must be tempered with wisdom if you hope to attract talented followers. Don’t be too smart.