The Smartest Person In the Room

Jan 04, 2022

Sometimes, it is easy to get caught in the assumption that because we are the leaders, every answer should come from us. Making all the calls without consulting our team about alternative solutions to a problem or ignoring the ones suggested might shut them down. If we shut down our collaborators every time they throw an idea, they might lose interest in their jobs and the company, and even worse, it might deprive us of potentially great solutions.

Today, in the first episode of the year, we talk about being open to hearing different points of view and nurturing our team's will to come up with solutions. We look at how damaging it can be assuming we are the smartest person in the room and why it is crucial to encourage our employees to share their opinions on dealing with our company's issues. I share some of my experiences doing this wrong, shutting people down, and not trusting in other people's brilliance. We also go through a list of powerful questions to incentivize our teams to participate, be creative, and share what they would do. 

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • The missed opportunity of walking the dog and Madeline's solution (2:03)
  • The perfect solution might come from unsuspected places (4:47)
  • It is not about being the smartest; it is about being surrounded by the smartest (7:17)
  • The price we pay for shutting down people (9:01)
  • About the importance of the questions, we ask (12:39)
  • What happens when we ask the right questions, and we actually listen to the answers (15:25)

Resources:

  • Download my free One-on-One Transformation tool
  • Quote: John C. Maxwell - "The smartest person in the room is never as smart as all of the people in the room."
  • Quote: Thomas Freese - "The Questions you ask are more important than the things you could ever say"
  • This week's challenge - When you speak with your team and are about to "tell" them something, try asking some good questions first.

Let's Connect!

Transcript

Clint Hoopes: When we seek to be the smartest person in the room, we’ll often shut out everyone else. And we’ll shut out their ideas, shut out their input. And you'll get to the point where you may not even notice it. You shut out people enough, they'll stop speaking up. 

Welcome back to the Flavor of Leadership podcast. And Happy New Year. I can't believe it's already 2022. But I tell you, I love the fresh start that the New Year gives us – so fun. Hopefully, you had a good break over the holidays with family and friends. It's always a great time. As we get started today, I just have a couple of thoughts on something that happened just a few weeks ago. We were at the park, actually, with our family. And we were there with some friends who had a dog. And my children, they were having a tonne of fun playing with this dog. One of my kids, they got the chance to walk the dog on a leash for a few minutes, right before our friends left the park. And so if you have kids, you already know that this is absolutely not fair. Like I mentioned before, I have six kids. And the older ones, they were fine. We used to have a dog when they were little, so it's old news for them. But the younger ones, they wanted to walk the dog so bad. And once again, since one of them got to but the other ones didn't, it was not a good thing. And so we didn't even fully realize though that my three-year-old boy Lincoln, that he wanted to try and walk the dog. And it was already too late because the friends had already left. And the dog was gone. And my little boy was there left devastated, just devastated. Feeling like he's never going to have a chance to ever do that again in his life. So, he went out in the middle of the grass field and just sat there, sat there crying, and refused to get in the car. So, we couldn't go. We had to sit there and wait. And it was just like, “Oh my gosh, what do we do?” So, me my wife, and it's one of those times that you just sit there and you’re like, “What do we do? How are we gonna make this better for him?” Because he's three years old. And so it happens. You can't really reason with them or make any deals with them. It's so hard. 

And so as me my wife, we’re there kind of debating what to do, my eight-year-old daughter, Madeline, just walked out to the field to see if she could help. And my first thought, honestly, was was to stop her, thinking whatever she might say would likely just make it worse at this point. And I'm thinking, “Okay, it’s just gonna make it worse, maybe she's gonna say something that's gonna set him off in some other way. And then the whole thing's gonna be bad again.” But, you know, my wife, she didn't say anything. And so I thought, “You know, so, I guess I won't either.” Obviously, Angie, my wife is much smarter than me. So, Madeline, my daughter, soon she reached my son, and they began talking. And then before we knew it, he just stopped crying. I’m thinking, “Okay, I wonder what did she promise him, like ice cream when we get home or something? I don't know. What happened?” But I guess he stopped crying, so that's a good thing. And then after a few moments, all of a sudden, I saw Madeline get down on her hands and knees. I’m thinking, “What is she doing? Did she drop something or what?” And then she grabbed her own ponytail of hair and she kind of tried to put it into Lincoln's hands. And so he took it, put in his hands, and she began walking on all fours, just like a dog, and let Lincoln walk her back just like you would a dog, just so that he would feel better.

And I'll tell you, it was so fun to sit and watch how they both came back grining. They were both smiling. She was smiling because she was just happy. I mean, she was pretending to be a dog – so, that's fun too. But it's one of those things that they were both so happy and it was just the perfect solution to a problem that didn't look like it had a good solution. I mean, they both came back to the car, still nice and happy, hopped into the car and there were no more struggles, no more tears at all. 

I'm telling you, there are so many things about this story that just make me so happy. And not the least of which is the selfless service that my daughter offered without any hesitation. She's starting to get a little older, where it might be a little embarrassing or whatever to get down and do something like that – act like a dog. But without hesitation, she did it. But the real lesson that I actually wanted to point out today is that Madeline, she thought outside of the box, and came up with the solution. And honestly, it was a much better solution than either of her parents were going to come up with. We probably wouldn't have ended up just going over there, trying to reason with him a minute. And when he didn't, we’d just, I don't know, maybe lifted him up and just forced him back into the car. Once again, not the best solution. But there's a point where what do you do, and you start losing patience as a parent. 

But man, sometimes taking it a little different angle and listening to all of those that are around you can make all the difference. It was amazing how she came up with the idea herself and just executed it perfectly. She was the perfect person to come up with the idea and the perfect person to execute it. Sometimes, as leaders, when we're the ones that are in charge, we feel like we have to have all of the answers. All the answers to anything that could come before us. Which, when you think about it, you say it that way, is a little ridiculous. But yet, we still think that. We have all these members on our team. And maybe you have a small team. Maybe there’s only one other person or two other people. But that's okay, too. Or maybe you have a large team. Either way, you have other people that are there that have the expertise of some sort. And it doesn't have to be the same expertise as everyone else. They may not have been at the company as long as some others, but they have different experiences in life that will give them a different point of view. You as the leader don't have to be the smartest person in the room. You just need to be able to gather the brilliance from the others around you. That's why you gathered them in the first place. John C. Maxwell, he said, “The smartest person in the room is never as smart as all of the people in the room.” And I believe that's true. When we seek to be the smartest person in the room, we’ll often shut out everyone else, and we’ll shut out their ideas, shut out their input. And you get to the point where you may not even notice it. You shut out people enough, they'll stop speaking up. And you'll think, “Why doesn't anybody else ever have any ideas? Why doesn't anybody else ever bring up anything?” And then it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy in  a way. You're forced to continue to act as though you are the smartest person in the room because you have no other choice; the people won't speak up, you've already shut them down enough. 

In this story, with my daughter and my son, I was nearly going to shut down her great idea before I even heard it. I was ready to think “Oh, she's young. She probably won't be able to make it better.” Which is absurd. And that's often how we feel with some other people on our team. We don't think to use the brilliance that others already have. 

This actually reminded me of another time in a management team meeting that I was leading. So, I was in charge, I was leading it. The conversation was flowing. It was a session where we were going through, and it was truly a brainstorming and ideas session, where we were trying to get some ideas to be able to find some solutions to some strategy issues that we were working through. And as we were going through the conversation, I began to see how I “thought” that the conversation could go. I started, maybe not necessarily steering the conversation all the way but sort of. I was kind of like, “Okay, I see where this should go at this point.” We're having a discussion but “No, I think I know where the best place to go is at this point.” And so someone else brought up an idea – honestly, a pretty good idea – but it didn't align where I had already kind of fixating my mind where I wanted to go. So, what happened to me is, since this idea didn't align with where I already kind of wanted to go, I'm embarrassed to even say this, but I kind of politely shut them down. And then I moved in another direction and kind of kept going. Even though it was clearly still time in the meeting for bringing up new ideas. Guess what? You can guess what happened. They barely said another word for the rest of the meeting. And this wasn't the personality of this person. But they barely said another word. And they were one of the most capable people on our team. I wonder what we missed out on during that meeting. Do you think he was excited about the direction that we decided that meeting? No way. Did he go through with it? Yeah, maybe, but not nearly as much buy-in as he possibly could have had. Did we miss out on some other potentially great solutions? Yeah, I really do think we did. It makes me sad. The other thing that I thought of since was, did other people not speak up because of me? Because of shutting him down? Or because of what I may have done in that discussion? Did other people not speak up that would have? Honestly, I don't know. But probably. 

So, how might the direction of that meeting, and really of the organisation, how could have it been different? Probably better. Not just different, but probably better. We'll never know. I didn't even fully realize that what I was doing until later in the meeting. It was a little bit later, and I finally realized “He's not really speaking up anymore.” And my mind started turning a little bit. I got a little sick feeling in my gut. You ever had that? Where you feel like, “Oh, man, what did I do? Would I live below my potential?” And really failed as a leader. But really, all I could do is change the future at this point. So, I continue with the rest of the meeting, ended the meeting. And after that meeting, I committed myself to better and listen more to the collective wisdom of my team. 

Another quote that I love is by author Thomas Friess. He said, “The questions you ask are more important than the things you could ever say.” Which I believe. I do believe that. This comes back to not trying to be the smartest person in the room. Use the collective wisdom of those on your team. 

So, here is the challenge for this week. You might already consider yourself to be great at asking questions. And if so, fantastic. We'll see if we can even take it up another notch. But this week, when you are speaking with your team, try and think about this before you start telling them something. So, when you're about to tell them something, try asking some good questions first. So, this week, when you're speaking with your team and about to tell them something, impart your wisdom upon them; try asking some good questions first. So, let me give you a few questions that you might consider to spur your thoughts. The first one might be: Why do you think that is? Whatever the conversation is, and you might be able to ask the group or an individual, why do you think that is? Or are there any other solutions? Or are there any other solutions that we haven't considered? Or can we do X better? Or what have we not yet considered? Or how about this? What are the unintended consequences of this course of action? Maybe there are things you aren’t even thinking about, but someone else is. And because there's someone who doesn't want to speak up, maybe they're a little bit more shy or they're not quite sure, that invitation might be enough to help them bring up something that they see that could be critical to the decision at hand or the discussion at hand. 

Another one might be “What impact you think this decision will have?” And you can continue that on. “What impact you think this decision will have on our employees, or on our revenue, or on our…” Boom, boom, boom, you can continue on and fill and use some variation of these questions or any other question that comes up in the moment. So, ask and then listen to the wisdom that comes. You might be surprised at the results. You might be able to actually try it with your family as well. This is something that I have been working on for years; trying to do better at not just talking at my family but – when there's a problem or something that's happening – involve the family in some of the discussion. You can even use some of the same questions that I shared above. I have often been amazed at the knowledge that my children have acquired, and how they apply it when you ask the right questions. This is so powerful. I hope you'll do it. 

So, as we end today, I just wanted to say thank you, again, to all of you who have taken the time to leave the show review on Apple Podcasts. It is so appreciated. It helps other people find the show. And it helps me know that I'm doing a good job for you, and help bring the topics, and the ideas, and the thoughts, and the wisdom that I find from all of these different leaders around the world and from different experiences that it's helping you. So, as always, I love show topic ideas as well. And so whenever I receive them from you, it helps so much. I read every single one myself, and I incorporate the questions and ideas into the show. So, go ahead and send those to me at [email protected]. Or you can go to clinthoopes.com and send it to me there as well. Another thing before we end, I have a super exciting interview with two amazing gentlemen next week that are coming out with an incredible book that I can't wait for you to hear about. So, coming up next week, amazing interview, you don't want to miss. Until next week.