It’s Okay to be the Smartest Person in the Room

Michael Dell gave a speech at the University of Texas in 2003 and said “Try to never be the smartest person in the room. And, if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people… or find a different room.

You’ve likely heard different iterations of this phrase. It may have motivated you to work hard finding different networking groups where you met new people. Maybe you invited other smart people to join your personal board of directors so you could learn and advance professionally. Whatever the situation, your career benefitted because you built relationships with people you hadn’t interacted with before.

I traveled to Colorado Springs, CO two weeks ago to present the findings from a white paper I partnered with Financial Executives Research Foundation and Robert Half to publish. The paper is entitled Creating a Leadership Pipeline: Developing the Millennial Generation into Finance Leaders. Click the link for more information about what makes millennials tick and how you can motivate them.

At FEI’s Summit, Monday morning’s keynote speaker was Josh Linkner. He recently published The Road to Reinvention, a great book filled with stories and practices for people to be more innovative. Linkner discussed the importance of being curious, continually craving what’s next, defying established traditions, getting scrappy and resourceful (remember MacGyver?) and adapting to change quickly.

As he spoke, I couldn’t help but to think of Dell’s quote. For you to develop as a leader, you certainly need to be curious, crave what’s next and get scrappy. You can do that by entering new rooms where there are other very smart people you can learn from. Be open to entering these rooms so that you can adapt to change, challenge yourself and defy the established traditions you’ve employed to today.

Not being the smartest person in the room is great because you can learn.

But, what if you enter a room and the other people there could really benefit by learning your subject matter expertise? What if the information you share is truly unique, powerful and generates value for them? To establish your personal brand and develop new business, being differentiated… “the smartest person in the room”… is important. You’re the gatekeeper of information they’d like to know, but don’t know how to access. You have the experiences, stories of failure and success and practices that can move them to their desired state. You have a piece of the puzzle that moves them further down the road to personal reinvention.

Being the smartest person in the room is great because you can teach.

In that same 2003 speech, Michael Dell also said “We are all gifts to each other, and my own growth as a leader has shown me again and again that the most rewarding experiences come from my relationships.

Regardless of the room you’re in, stay focused on building meaningful relationships. Achieving your life’s mission requires planning, taking action, time for reflection, and learning from being and not being the smartest person in the room.

We truly are gifts to one other.

Encourage someone you know to be the smartest person in the room today.