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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are you too smart for your own good?

Intellect... an Asset or Liability?

by Mike Myatt

Are you too smart for your own good?My question is this: Is your intellect an asset or liability?

All one has to do is watch a very bright person defend their position to understand what I'm driving at with today's post. Observing intelligent people lecture, spin, posture, position, cajole, rationalize, or justify their beliefs in order to "get the win" is often times entertaining, but it can also be exceedingly frustrating. I've come across more than a few self-proclaimed "intelligent" people who believe that their intellectual acuity is far superior to the discernment ability of their peers and co-workers. Not only are these intellectual giants wrong, but sadly, by the time they awaken to a state of reality it is already too late. In today's post I'll share the keys to leveraging your intellectual assets as opposed to having your intelligence serve as a barrier to your success.

When a person begins to believe their own smoke, they have placed themselves on a very slippery slope. I am a big believer that there is truth in the statement that "a person can be too smart for their own good." How many times have you witnessed a very bright person fail to solve a problem that a younger, less experienced, and perhaps even a less intelligent person solved with seemingly little effort? While raw intelligence is a valuable commodity, in-and-of-itself, and to the exclusion of other traits and characteristics, the sole reliance on IQ can be a barrier to professional growth and maturity.

Is your intellect standing in the way of your success? Are you so enamored with how smart you are that you can't get anything done? Consider this... Is it more important to be right, or to achieve the right outcome? I tend to respect those who can lead others to the proper outcome as opposed to those who excoriate others just to prove they're right. If your certitude overshadows your wisdom, you may want to dial it back a notch.

By nature of what I do for a living I tend to work with very bright people. It has been my observation that hyper-intelligent people can tend to think themselves into trouble and out of opportunities with great ease... Whenever I find myself discussing issues of intellect, ego, leadership etc., I'm always reminded of the cartoon which reads: "Rule number one: the boss is always right. Rule number two: When in doubt refer to rule number one." If you find yourself rationalizing or justifying positions based solely upon intellectual reasoning without regard to practical realities, timing, or other contextual considerations, you may be too smart for your own good. Just as a lack of belief in gravity won't prevent you from tripping, simply believing a particular opinion or theory to be fact doesn't mean you're right.

Often times the problem with intelligent people lies simply in the fact that they have come to enjoy being right. Bright people can quickly find themselves in the position of confusing ego with intellect, and can sometimes defend ideas to the death rather than admit they're wrong. This confusion of ego and intellect often stems from bright people successfully arguing wrong positions over time such that they've built their persona around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it's based in delusion.

So how do you know when you've crossed over to the dark-side and can't tell the difference between fact and fiction? The following items will help you discern whether or not you are using your intellect properly or whether you've just simply bought-off on your own propaganda:

  1. Consistent Conflict

    • Do you find yourself in a perpetual state of debate? Do you find yourself thinking "why am I the only one that gets it?" Is it more important for you to be right than to arrive at the correct resolution to an issue, problem or opportunity? Are you known as a bitter, pessimistic or negative person? If any of these issues describe situations that hit too close to home then you may want to take a step back and do some self-evaluation.

  2. Exclusivity vs. Inclusivity

    • Do you use your intelligence to intimidate and stifle others or to encourage, inspire and motivate others? Do you wonder why you can't seem to retain tier one talent or why you lose key clients? If your brilliance is polarizing as opposed to serving as a magnet which attracts, then how smart are you really?

  3. True Success

    • If an independent third party came into your business and interviewed your peers and subordinates alike, what would that feedback look like? Do others see you as successful, or are you merely a legend in your own mind? What I think of myself is not nearly as important as what my family, friends, clients, and co-workers think of me. If those you surround yourself with don't hold you in high regard, then you have no reason to.

The bottom line is this... the gift of intellect is an asset to be thankful for, and put to good and productive use. It is not an excuse to be lazy, arrogant, mean-spirited or delusional. Don't let your intellect stand in your way, but rather use it as an asset to develop those around you to their full potential thereby increasing your chances for long-term success.

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of "Leadership Matters...The CEO Survival Manual", and Managing Director of N2Growth.

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Anonymous James Rock said...

Great post...

As someone who suffered from this for too long I agree with all you observations. I am a maverick - and found too often that whilst mavericks are valuable to an organisation they aren't always liked.

For years my ego told me that if "they" didnt get it it was their loss not mine... but as you point out it eventually gets lonely and I had to learn to work with others to be even more effective...

Wish someone could have explained this to me early in my career!

5:49 AM  
Anonymous graham cox said...

Some good points but the knub of the issue is the definition of 'intelligent'. You seem to switch to 'smart' and 'bright' and 'intelligent' without defining them. Indeed, 'intelligent' for a person that is working in a big corporation is much more about political savvy and less about doing the right thing for the company... indeed, many top corporate people are fantastic at 'quick wins' that are only good for the individuals next promotion... thats intelligent from the persons point of view and 'dumb' to try to help the company. Individuals working for smaller companies define intelligence differently. So, I think as usual, your commentary is missing a major point.

1:30 AM  

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