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Be the most respected person in the room

Not the smartest!
Blog 79

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”? It’s something I often say to my coaching clients. After all, if there’s nothing you can learn from the people around you, your growth potential is pretty slim. And where’s the fun in that?

If you do regularly find yourself being the smartest person in the room, it might be that your learning, ego and relationships all need a reset. Because people who deliberately and consciously develop and grow look to others for guidance. They allow themselves to feel uncomfortable; to show their inability to answer a question, express a view or share knowledge. If you can’t allow yourself to show vulnerability in this way, then you are missing out! The greatest energy, inspiration and learning come from being surrounded by people who are smarter than you. Of course, there should and might be times when you are the smartest person in the room because you are bringing the expertise. But for the most part, it’s in your best interest to spend time with people who can teach you something, or have a skill that you lack, or can contribute in a way that you might not be able to.

I should clarify here that when I talk about being smart, I’m not just referring to a person’s intelligence quotient (IQ). Yes, there are all different types of smart; IQ is definitely in there, but there’s also your emotional quotient (EQ), adversity quotient (AQ), social quotient (SQ) – the list goes on and on. And these days, it’s the latter, perhaps less traditional, forms of intelligence that tend to carry most weight within teams. Increasingly, we’re seeing high EQ deliver greater value to organisations than high IQ. A few years back, for example, researchers tested the IQ of hundreds of executives and had their co-workers rate their effectiveness as leaders. It turned out that the workers couldn’t relate well with the super intelligent leaders – and that an IQ any higher than 120 became too much of a good thing. Meanwhile, Google research has found EQ matters more than IQ or technical competence for becoming a successful manager.

So if not IQ, what do teams need and want from their leaders? Respect, for starters. It’s one of those words that’s so often thrown around, but doesn’t always carry the weight that it should. Along with authenticity, trust and integrity, it’s at the top of my list for overused words. By definition, it’s the act of admiring someone or something deeply as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements. It’s the hallmark of a great leader: someone who understands the importance of showing respect towards everyone, regardless of their position within a team.

Think about how many people you truly respect at work, in your immediate community and around the world. And now think about why it is you respect them. Respect is mostly earned; something that builds gradually as we get to know people, understand their values and how they stand up against their actions. I speak with many of my clients, especially those in leadership roles, about the challenge and importance of being both respected and respectful. It’s actually not an easy ask. I don’t think you are respected in a meaningful way if you aren’t demonstrating behaviour that embodies those other traits, like authenticity and trust. Do you respect anyone who isn’t authentic and trustworthy, or who lacks integrity?

So, how do you become the most respected person in the room? I often say this is a goal everyone should aspire to. Being the most respected person in the room is about your behaviour, brand and EQ. It means you can listen, reflect back the needs of others, adjust your own thinking, add value to the conversation, challenge with diverse thinking and care deeply about others. It means that you esteem their ideas, opinions and differences. And you show compassion to everyone you encounter.

This is such an important time in the world for connection and education. We’ve never had more access to information than we have now, and yet it feels like the world is calling out for leaders we can respect, as well as humans of all kinds to value things that really matter, such as our environment and the future of our planet. As we continue to welcome advances in technology and grow accustomed to constant change, leaders need to both demonstrate and garner respect; to listen and learn; and bring out the best in people, so we can collectively innovate and grow.

If you’re looking to learn more on the importance of respect, check out this TED Talk from leadership researcher Christine Porath. She’s also written two books, The Cost of Bad Behaviour and Mastering Civility, which are well worth a read.

- Lisa Stephenson
Founder, The Coach Place Global.

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