Don’t let intellect ruin your career
My wife records travel shows – relentlessly. We watch Hawaii Life, Rudy Maxa, Samantha Brown, International Househunters, Rick Steves, oh, and did I mention Hawaii Life? “Ya just have to want it!” Recently, an online fitness trainer from Austin, house hunting in Colombia with his online public health care provider wife, is quoted by HGTV as saying, “I have no idea what it feels like to be wrong!” Some viewers might laugh, some might shrug but some of us would walk away disliking him, much like we dislike the person who’s so smart he’s become an active boss and inactive leader.
Intelligent, dynamic people who can take charge and give clear directions are often promoted to leadership roles and when intellect, charisma and the ability to connect with team members are in balance, teams thrive and all is well. In contrast, when balance is lacking, teams falter and leaders fail. In leadership, all smarts and no savvy is a dangerous combination.
According to Harvard Business Review contributor, Alice Boyes, very smart people can overplay their intelligence and sabotage their own careers along with team growth. She advises that intellect be used to promote the entire team and must never be used in a way that devalues any member. Linking one’s self-esteem to intelligence and always needing to be right is a sure-fire way to kill effective teamwork.
Pitfalls for Smart Leaders to Avoid
I’m smarter than you and therefore wiser. Management Issues contributor, Peter Vajda, says that there is a big difference between being intelligent versus being wise and refers to wisdom as the “right use of knowledge.” When I was working as a clinical instructor earlier in my career, one of my co-instructors was viewed by many as being “dumber than dirt” when it came to quoting textbooks or the latest research. However, he had a real gift for applying knowledge and getting the job done. The “smart ones” on the staff were awed by Jim’s clinical wisdom when responding to a crisis and his ability to save the day. Really smart people know that wisdom trumps intellect.
I’m smarter than you that’s why I was chosen as the leader. No question, intelligence is an attribute in managers at all levels. However, it is only a piece of the puzzle. The ability to connect with individuals and motivate a group to achieve a common goal and the wherewithal to function as a contributing teammate is more important than raw intellect. In another department-chief experience, a middle-manager who had previously been assigned as a sub-group Lead, consistently came across as being smarter than everyone else. A bright and capable person, she was working on a doctorate and flaunted her intelligence in every conversation, trying to make certain that people walked away feeling insignificant and honored that she had talked to them. Though she eagerly pursued greater leadership opportunities, she was regularly passed over because of her superior attitude. Clearly, potential for rising in the ranks can be knocked off the track by placing your book smarts above smart interaction.
I’m smarter than you, so you can put up and shut up. Authoritarian leadership is needed on a battlefield, during a natural disaster and especially in a code situation, but heavy-handed bullying or blatant arrogance disguised as intelligence is divisive and will kill team loyalty. For everyday management under normal circumstances, collaborative teamwork that recognizes and employs collective intelligence wins the day. At one point in my military career, I worked for a department Chair who governed by strictly worded “do this or there will be a penalty” memos. He assumed that he was appointed to the leadership position because he was the smartest person in organization and demanded compliance to his whims. Within a year, the department was in near mutiny and the leader was replaced.
I’m smarter than you, so I can share what I know when I want and with whom. Allowing team members to struggle with a project by intentionally withholding information is self-defeating. As well, when a leader is privy to information before it is released publicly and shares it selectively to the chosen few, an inner circle of loyal supporters is created, dividing the privileged few from the many. Eventually, your team will become polarized and collaboration, the key to team building, goes out the window.
I’m smarter than you and I can hang out with smart people, not with you. Upward climbers are prone to becoming elitists who clamor to spend their time and attention at or above their current level of responsibility. Reportedly, a new department chair at a major teaching hospital assumed the helm of the department and quickly turned her focus to connecting with other department chairs and hanging out with the organization’s top leadership. In the process, communication with the remaining 80% of the department was scant and impersonal. By limiting your contact to smart people in the know, an opportunity for both team and personal growth will be lost.
The best leaders are multidimensional and bring many skills to the job. Intelligence is important, but never forget as a leader that the nucleus of the organization is the team and intellect by itself will not produce effective teamwork. The combination of applying intelligence to create a vision, using charisma to motivate others and having the savvy to pull it all together, is a formula for success. Rather than bossing like an intellect who “has no idea what it feels like to be wrong,” balance your smarts with your other leadership talents and actively travel with the team.
Tom S. Davis, DNAP, CRNA, MAE, is the former Chief of the Division of Nurse Anesthesia at The Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and former Chief CRNA at (Baylor) Scott and White, Main OR in Temple, TX. Col. Davis, USAF (Ret.), is well-known throughout the Nurse Anesthesia community for his leadership in clinical anesthesia, including developing the first distance education model while on the graduate faculty at Kansas University Medical Center. Recognized for his expertise in team-building across department lines, Tom is a sought-after speaker, educator, author, and leadership trainer. Follow @procrnatom on Twitter.