Why Smart Leaders Do Stupid Things
No one gets up thinking, “I want to do something incredibly stupid today.” Choices seem smart until they end up harmful.
Only a knuckle head shows up thinking, “How can I suck the life out of my team?”
You intend to motivate your team, for example, but instead they’re discouraged.
You intended to strengthen relationships, but instead they’re strained.
We’ve all tried to do good and fallen short.
Unless you’re seriously broken, you intend to help others and yourself. We realize – after the fact – that what seemed helpful was actually harmful.
No one intentionally chooses failure.
Irrelevant rules HAD good reasons.
Rules are designed to facilitate, protect, or enhance success.
Caution seems smart. But over-caution is stupid, especially in turbulent environments.
Failure to evaluate policies and procedures results in time-wasting resource-squandering behaviors.
Have a meeting to eliminate unnecessary and antiquated rules.
- What are we doing that wastes time?
- What rules/procedures are no longer relevant?
Smart is situation specific.
You end up stupid when you don’t adapt to changing situations.
Smart is time specific.
What was smart yesterday may end up stupid tomorrow.
Smart leaders grow dumb.
When you believe something is true – when it isn’t – you end up doing dumb things.
The chair at the head of the table doesn’t increase your IQ. It may make you dumb.
Good intentions seem smart at the start. But good intentions don’t erase over-confidence and closed minds.
Better to think you’re stupid when you’re smart than to think you’re smart when you’re stupid.
- What if you don’t know as much as you think?
- What if someone is right?
If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re confused. No one is always the smartest person in the room.
What stupid things do smart leaders do/believe?
What do smart leaders habitually do?
A saboteur lurks on the over-cautious side. (Simple Sabotage)
The World’s 19 Most Disappointing Leaders (Fortune)
3 Habits of Exceptionally Stupid Leaders (Inc)
Well said, Dan! Often the best intentions still lead to negative impact! Policies and procedures that are prompted by the behaviors of a small minority are often result in much lost productivity.
Thanks Ken. An isolated few can sure make life miserable for the masses. Good point.
What stupid things do smart leaders do/believe? They say “seeing is believing” so unless you see it perhaps don’t believe it! Ex; You trust your worker that says “We will be done in 4 weeks”, 4 weeks go buy and you go see it and realize there’s a misconception and its really 6 weeks till your done! Knowing its better to witness first hand then accept someone else’s viewpoint.
What do smart leaders habitually do? Trust their gut first, experience has taught you the rigors of expectations and actual reality! When you know its wrong, then its wrong, same as knowing when its right! So verify first the rest will fall into place. You develop an actual understanding of the processes and how to get things done? When they will be done? Why we have delays?
You can’t have 4 Doers and 10 watchers!
Thanks Tim. I started thinking about the connection between instinct and experience. In areas where you have lots of experience. In areas of inexperience be skeptical and/or trust people of experience.
Smart leaders habitually query the “unwritten” rules in a culture.
They say them out loud, or even right them down, and ask, “How does this work? Why do we reward this?”
And makes everyone answer, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
Then they rearrange them, add their own rules (which presumably deprioritize previously highly held beliefs),
and continue the conversation until the old rules vanish into functional oblivion
(in that they no longer influence “the way things get done”).
Stupidity is, in fact, fixable/curable. It just takes time and focus by someone of real influence (presumably, a REAL leader).
Thanks Rurbane. I appreciate the hard work and optimism suggested in your comment. “Stupidity is fixable.” Of course we have to first acknowledge it.
I guess we haven’t met 🙂
I like all of this – one thing I’d add around the rules part is that when you work for a large company, its more akin to the Serenity Prayer:
grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.
In addition to what you wrote, I’ve come to observe that smart leaders also know how to navigate the company culture, processes, etc. to ensure their teams are positioned to be successful.
Thanks Jon. Your insight re: navigating company culture is so useful. You can’t get ahead in an organization and ignore the way things are done. There’s something in some of us that likes to thumb our noses at those internal processes. But usually, resistance of this kind doesn’t help our team or ourselves.
Someone I worked for years ago use to say that if you were the smartest person in the room, it was time to find another room.
Makes sense to me, Jennifer.
When policy supersedes in importance, the talent, education level and productivity of the worker, then stupidity has taken the lead. What works better may be known but never experienced until a motivated leader who has the mission for everyone’s success emerges into the head position.
Unfortunately, I have seen this once to often. What a waste of time and talent.
Thanks Ron. When we believe that our leaders are committed to our success as well as organizational success, it’s easier to be motivated.
Smart. Stupid. Are labels. Leadership and management lose sight of reality. We all fall prey to our own thoughts. It just happens and it happens to the best of us. Whenever someone makes a choice to do something that person really doesn’t know what will happen. We deal in possibilities and probabilities. No man controls what happens in life.
I understand the need for policies, rules, regulations. At the end of the day reality rules supreme.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”