You Don’t Have to Be the Smartest Person in the Room

A dim lightbulb among lit ones

With leadership comes knowledge.  But as my responsibilities grew, it was impossible to learn everything – there was always some element of the job that I didn’t understand. And as much I wanted to know everything about my job, industry and customers, sometimes there wasn’t enough time to read about and master every topic.

So how was I going to obtain all of the knowledge I needed?

With leadership also comes teamwork and the wisdom to understand that “you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room.”  My experience taught me to surround myself with people who were smarter than me.  They gave me the knowledge I needed to lead.

I had great teams and, together, we were smart and effective.  I also had enough confidence to embrace this idea – and not to feel threatened by it.

Following is some advice for getting comfortable with not being the smartest person in the room, while still being an effective and successful leader.  These tips are written from my personal and professional experiences and shared in my book, “The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success.”

Know what you don’t know.

I don’t mind that I don’t know everything.  Truthfully, how could I possibly know absolutely everything about every aspect of business and my industry?  So instead of trying to be the smartest person in the room, I surround myself with people who are doing great things in their own areas of expertise.

Build a smart team.

Whenever I obtained a new role, it was because something was not working well in that department – and my job was to fix it.  In any new role, I pulled individuals from around the company to create my team.  The result was a group that could quickly learn, while finding new resolutions and strategies.

Understand each person’s strengths.

A great team is more than a collection of great individuals.  It is actually the sum of each member’s natural strengths.  In fact, the key element of surrounding myself with people who were smarter than me was to value each individual as a whole person.  Know their strengths, and use them to stay smart.

 Learn from your team.

When I needed to make recommendations to senior management, my team was responsible for getting me to understand the details for each proposal.  They brought an expertise from which I would draw.  They taught me, and then I taught others.

Celebrate a fresh perspective.

A smart team brings intelligence, but it also brings an entirely fresh point of view. For me, it was the help with research, technology and innovation.  My team gave me unique insight into a range of information and ideas.

Swallow your pride.

Pride never should take the place of understanding. My team helped me simplify and rephrase information, so that I could organize better for my presentations.  As a result, I was always able to full grasp a situation, and I acquired the tools to make informed decisions.

Learn every day.

I am always learning.  I can’t help it – because I am always surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me and who instill greater knowledge.

About Teresa Taylor

Teresa Taylor is a nationally recognized Fortune 200 executive who brings integrity, focus, vision and agility to corporate leadership, while advising companies, government agencies and others on a successful business model. Her book, “The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success,” is inspiring women to succeed professionally and personally.
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