Are you pretty smart?
I am. At least I thought I was. Coming out of college – check that, high school- I was convinced I was not only smart but decisive, a take-action kind of guy. Believe me, there are scenarios where you want smart take-action oriented people: if I’m in a stricken sub well below the ocean’s surface, I want action not debate.
But having said that most of the time in our workplaces teaming, collaboration and debate actually drive better solutions primarily because they drive better questions. Being decisive, take-action and dumb is not a recipe for success.
Fortunately in my career I worked in some of the best companies in the world – Dell, P&G, Apple, The Home Depot and VMware – and found lots of smart people already there. Really smart. And here’s what I learned working with all those smart people in all those different yet challenging environments: if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
Let me share an analogy. I play a lot of golf. I don’t play well but I follow the rules and count every stroke: that’s what real golfers do. But I get better and better bit by bit because I try to play with better golfers. I’m not going to learn how to play better if I’m the best in the foursome.
The workplace is much the same way. Want to learn something? Find out who’s good at that and rub shoulders with them. Need to develop a skill? See who the leaders are and try to spend time with them. Want to become an expert – find experts and immerse yourself. Its a funny thing about work: the way to success is to improve year over year, quarter over quarter, technically, professionally and interpersonally. Yet no one ever explains that the biggest roadblock in our path to self-improvement is our tendency to be impressed by ourselves.
My advice? Get over yourself.
Are you smart? Of course you are. But you’re not the only one. Hard-working? I’m sure – and so are others. Focused? Yep, that’s how we win. You can see where I’m going – a lot of people share these traits to one degree or another in the workplace. So what differentiates those who keep on progressing and learning in their careers from those who seemingly stumble from one left-handed role to another?
Some of the most successful people I know are the ones who ask the most questions, make themselves the most vulnerable, and in short, are not afraid to get over themselves. Self-confidence is powerful and useful: hubris is simply excessive and damaging. Very little of what we do in our respective fields today can be done alone. We need each other’s intellect, experiences and perspective. And people are happy to share. If you let them.
Want to be more successful in the global economy and the local workforce? Get over yourself.
Illustration: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry