Sunday, June 20, 2010

I am the smartest guy in the room effect!

In Greek mythology Narcissus was a favorite of Apollo and considered one of the most handsome young men alive. His beauty has been compared to Adonis, whom Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love herself, loved.The story goes that Narcissus, having come to a pool of water to quench his thirst, saw his own reflection in the smooth surface of the pool and fell in love with it. Since he could not obtain the object of his love, he died of sorrow by the same pool. The nymphs grieved the loss of Narcissus, but when they prepared his funeral pyre, they could not find his body—only the flower that bears his name. Supposedly, Narcissus still gazes upon his own reflection in the waters of the river Styx, in the underworld.

Yesterday, CIOZone caught my eye with an article they titled, Sometimes IT Leaders Are Too Smart for Their Own Good, where they suggest that, "Even the smartest person in the room can benefit from listening to others, provided those people have been chosen wisely." The author, RD Lewis calls it "Social Cognition-driven Hierarchy Level Establishment and Positioning (SCHLEP)."

He suggests, "The subject isn't emotional intelligence. People who lack that can't effectively work with other people—a related but different affliction." He suggests that these people "...don't listen because they don't see the point."Lewis asserts, "It's the intellectual version of a well-known tendency among male, muscularly-advanced high-school students: looking at their social world as a pecking order, within which they seek their level—preferably, someplace near the top—but through intellectual rather than physical pushing and shoving."

I think most people who have been in the workforce for any length of time have had to contend with a narcissistic personality at one time or another. Sometimes they are called "the smart person in the room," Lewis calls them "SCHLEPers," I just call them "Narcissists."I once worked with a guy who thought that he was the only one with any brains. He wouldn't listen to anyone and his fingerprint needed to be indelibly stamped on every initiative. In fairness, he was very smart, but his organization couldn't grow beyond what he could personally control. I didn't stay there very long.

I don't think it matters whether you are the project manager, the CIO, or the CEO—surrounding yourself with people who know things that you don't know is smart, very smart. Having the self-control and trust to actually listen to them is brilliance—and critical to accomplishing things greater than oneself.Lewis suggests that, once you "[s]tart down this path you'll discover something wonderful: Many people who are far less intelligent than you know something important you'd be wise to learn from.

It has to be this way, because no matter how smart you are, and how little sleep you think you need, you only have 168 hours in a week to add to your fund of knowledge. Line up nine decently smart employees who each spend 20 hours a week learning more about their professions, and every week one of them will know something you don't.""Most people know something you'd benefit from hearing," he continues, "You just have to help them figure out what it is."Regardless of how you manage project-based work or your particular project management software, always being the smart guy in the room just isn't a good idea. It alienates both stakeholders and project teams—and ultimately inhibits project success.What do you do when you need to work with a narcissistic personality? Or, if you tend to be what Lewis calls a SHLEPer, what do you do to foster dialog and keep from always being the smart guy in the room?

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