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Management Rules That Make No Sense #9: The Danger Of Being The Smartest Guy In the Room

April 25, 2014

Chris, what would you guess I majored in at BYU?

I don’t know, Rodney. . .writing? Political Science?

Computer Science.

Really? I would have never guessed.

I used to be very technical. I wrote programming code before I realized I was too much of a people person to be a programmer. I deciphered network traces. I wrote technical books. So, why was Chris, the Project Manager assigned to the project I was a Program Manager on surprised to learn that?

Because I intentionally didn’t emphasis it. I relied on a group of engineers to help my projects be successful. I didn’t want the engineers to feel intimidated by the PM. Prior to the PM role, I was was a Team Manager over the messaging team. I had designed entire 5 day courses around Microsoft Exchange, but I didn’t emphasis my Exchange knowledge. In fact, I almost never even brought it up. I had some fantastic engineers and some that were good, but not yet great.

The way to get them to grow, to take risks, is to imbue them with as much confidence as I possibly could. I didn’t want them to worry I might second guess their decisions or their designs.

I called this strategy, “The Danger of Being The Smartest Guy In The Room.” Basically it means, if you are the smartest guy in the room, you are not hiring smart enough people.

I’ve worked with some brilliant people. I’ve worked with great programmers, fantastic database administrators, gifted datacenter architects. However, I’ve never worked with someone who was the best at everything.

Do you remember playing volleyball in junior high school? Remember the kid that decided he was better than everyone else, and so he’d run all over the court, bumping into people trying to get to every ball? He thought he was the smartest volleyball player on the court, but really he simply made his entire team worse because he refused to let others to their roles.

On an IT team, occasionally you find one of those guys. They don’t last long. Because to become an expert, really the top of your field in an area takes years. If you’ve devoted yourself to learning how networks are configured and tuned, you probably are not ALSO an expert on SharePoint. Today’s corporate IT world does not have room for the jack-of-all-trades master of none.

As a manager, it’s important to hiring the very best people you can possibly find for each role. Understand that if they are good, really good, they will be better at their job than you are. That’s okay. Let them shine in their own field.

The irony of management is that as you let your team shine and grow, you, as the manager look brilliant. Just don’t go thinking YOU did all that hard work. Don’t ever forget to not be the smartest guy in the room, even if it means people think you majored in English Literature instead of Computer Programming.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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