IT Leadership - Are You the Smartest Person in the Room?

By Patty Azzarello

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Being the smartest one in the room is not easy position to be in. In IT you face this situation regularly; especially when you are in a roomful of non-IT people and you need to make progress on a discussion about technology. You know the answer. You get there before everyone else. It is frustrating because:

No one really wants to listen to you No one gets why you are right Everyone seems to want to go slower (and it is infuriating) You resent having to make the effort of “bringing people along”

I have met and coached many talented and genuinely kind people in technology that want to do positive things for the business in an unselfish way but they get stuck because they are so smart they alienate the very people they want to help. If you are one of these people, or you have one of these people working for you, here's is the trick: you can either be smart or you can be effective.

Since you can’t do everything alone―you really do need other people to either to help or to get out of the way. So, if you can’t influence them, you will face road blocks and fail to get others working on your agenda. You will not be effective.

If you want to be effective, you have to suck it up and bring people along with you, even though it seems like a waste of time. Here are some ideas that will help:

Slow down (even when it goes against every fiber of your being).

Be inclusive. Don’t just announce the answer go through the step of setting context and getting input. As I’ve talked about before. Have the conversation on their terms with their vocabulary. Leave your IT words inside IT.

Listen. In meetings, give others time to talk, and really listen instead of arguing or shutting them down. You may feel like you are wasting time, but you will win favor by listening. It will pay-off later when you need to get their support.

Don’t be mean. I know it doesn’t feel like you're being mean. You are not trying to be mean. You are just trying to be straightforward, practical by sharing what―to you―is the obvious answer. This is one of the things that is so annoying about people: that they accuse you of being mean when you are not. They have their perception. What they see may be your dismissing their inputs, ignoring them, or picking fights publicly. Say less. Be more gracious. Be more patient. Use more steps in your logic. Get smaller agreements along the way. Say thank you.

Make an effort to learn what people's strengths are. You may be pleasantly surprised (or not). But, if you can get someone talking about what they are good at and show some appreciation of that, they will be your friend, and you can get their support for your agenda.

Give them the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind that these people might be brilliant in ways you are not―everyone who is intelligent and capable knows things you do not. Always be willing to learn from those around you. This will only prove to them that you really are smart because smart people try to learn from every encounter. There's also the practical side to this: what if someone in the room is really gifted at getting others on board? Even if they never understand your project, if you can win over that one person they can bring you all the others. What if the numbers guy you are talking with has a relationship with the CFO that will get your idea funded if you can win him over?

Set your sights on effectiveness. Okay, even if you are truly in a room full of stupid people who can’t keep up, you have a choice to make. Jump to the answer alone and face roadblocks, or make the effort to bring them along, so you can get the job done. It’s a choice you have. It may be frustrating in the moment, but the upside is that you will be getting things done―maybe not as fast as you want to go, but better than not at all.

Today Patty is the CEO of Azzarello Group, a unique services organization that helps companies develop and motivate their top performers, execute their strategies, and grow their business, through talent management programs, leadership workshops, online products & public speaking.