Why aren’t smart people enough?

“We have some incredible talent” she boasted, “what we really need is someone to package them and make us the best at something. We need someone to move us forward and advocate to for us.”

The company’s leader had asked me to interview a handful of his employees to help craft the job description for a key leadership hire he was about to make. For years this leader had complained that he hired the smartest folks and couldn’t understand why the organization wasn’t moving forward. He was convinced he could coach his existing team into the leadership that the office craved.

Why aren’t smart people enough - David DeWolf

He finally caved. He simply wasn’t seeing the progress necessary.

The quote caught me off guard. My first interviewee had basically defined leadership, and described precisely why the organization had been stagnant for the past several years.

Too many smart people. No leadership.

Leaders move an organization forward. They create momentum in a specific direction. In doing so, they turn a team into something greater than the sum of the parts.

Leadership requires vision.

Vision creates direction. Vision is the imagining of what can be. It defines where the team is going and what it can become. Without vision, there is nowhere to go and the team remains a group of individuals.

Leaders don’t necessarily need to create vision themselves. But they must own it and rally the team around it. They do this by painting a vivid description of what it will be like when they arrive.

Leadership builds momentum.

Momentum is movement towards the end point. It creates velocity and subsequently more momentum. Without momentum there is no improvement.

Leaders get everyone pushing in the same direction. Their strength alone is not enough to accelerate the team. They create leverage and find ways to move others forward. They do this by showing the way, building confidence and removing roadblocks.

Great minds obviously benefit an organization, but a group of smart individuals cannot accomplish half of what a a high performing team of mediocre minds can. Leadership is what gets you from here to there.


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  • David,

    Great post. Due to a few things that happened this week I plan to share this with my management team in about an hour! Thanks for YOUR leadership through Humble confidence. Mark