5 Signs You’re Not As Smart As You Think

5 Signs You’re Not As Smart As You ThinkMy question is this: Is your intellect an asset or liability? All one has to do is watch a very bright person defend their position to understand what I’m driving at with today’s post. Observing intelligent people lecture, spin, posture, position, cajole, argue, rationalize, or justify their beliefs in order to “get the win” is often times entertaining, but it can also be exceedingly frustrating.

I’ve come across more than a few self-proclaimed “intelligent” people who believe their intellectual acuity is far superior to the discernment of their peers and co-workers. Not only are these intellectual giants usually wrong, but sadly, by the time they awaken to a state of reality it is already too late. In the text that follows, I’ll share the keys to leveraging your intellectual assets as opposed to having your intelligence serve as a barrier to your success…

While leadership intelligence doesn’t have to be an oxymoron, it certainly can be. When a person begins to believe their own smoke, they have placed themselves on a very slippery slope. I believe there is truth in the statement “a person can be too smart for their own good.” How many times have you witnessed a very bright person fail to solve a problem a younger, less experienced, and perhaps even a less intelligent person solved with seemingly little effort? While raw intelligence is a valuable commodity, in-and-of-itself, and to the exclusion of other traits and characteristics, the sole reliance on IQ can be a barrier to professional growth and maturity.

Is your intellect standing in the way of your success? Are you so enamored with how smart you are you can’t get anything done? Consider this; is it more important to be right, or to achieve the right outcome? I tend to respect those who can lead others to the proper outcome as opposed to those who excoriate others just to prove they’re right. If your certitude overshadows your wisdom, you may want to dial it back a notch…

By nature of what I do for a living I tend to work with very bright people. It has been my observation hyper-intelligent people can tend to think themselves into trouble and out of opportunities with great ease. Whenever I find myself discussing issues of intellect, ego, leadership, etc., I’m always reminded of the cartoon which reads: “Rule number one: the boss is always right. Rule number two: when in doubt refer to rule number one.” If you find yourself rationalizing or justifying positions based solely upon intellectual reasoning without regard to culture, practical realities, timing, or other contextual considerations, you may be too smart for your own good. Just as a lack of belief in gravity won’t prevent you from falling, simply believing a particular opinion or theory to be fact doesn’t mean it is.

Often times the problem with intelligent people lies simply in the fact they have come to enjoy being right. Bright people can quickly find themselves in the position of confusing ego with intellect, and can sometimes defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. Smart leaders fear being wrong more than being proven wrong. Winning an argument isn’t particularly difficult, but it may come at a very expensive price. This confusion of ego and intellect often stems from successfully arguing wrong positions over time such that they’ve built their persona around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion.

5 Signs You’re Not As Smart As You Think

So how do you know when you’ve crossed over to the dark-side and can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction? The following 5 items will help you discern whether or not you are using your intellect properly, or whether you’ve just simply bought-off on your own propaganda:

1. Consistent Conflict: Do you find yourself in a perpetual state of debate? Do you find yourself thinking “why am I the only one who gets it?” Is it more important for you to be right than to arrive at the correct resolution to an issue, problem or opportunity? Are you known as a bitter, pessimistic or negative person? If any of these issues describe situations that hit too close to home then you may want to take a step back and do some self-evaluation.

2. Lack Professional Growth: I’ve often said it’s impossible for stagnant leaders to sustain growing organizations. If you prefer to rest on your laurels rather than continullay stretch your mind you’re in for a rude awakening. Warning: Leaders who don’t develop themselves professionally will be replaced by those who do.

3. Exclusivity vs. Inclusivity: Do you use your intelligence to intimidate and stifle others, or to encourage, inspire and motivate others? Do you wonder why you can’t seem to retain tier one talent or why you lose key clients? If your brilliance is polarizing as opposed to engaging, then how smart are you really?

4. True Success: If an independent third party interviewed your peers and subordinates alike, what would that feedback look like? Do others see you as successful, or are you merely a legend in your own mind? What I think of myself is not nearly as important as what my family, friends, clients, and co-workers think of me. If those you surround yourself with don’t hold you in high regard, then you have no reason to.

5. You’re Too Busy: Saying “I’m too busy for _________” is code for you don’t value whatever __________ is. Smart leaders are never too busy to make good decisions, to invest in people, to listen, or to learn. The job of a leader is to understand the value of creating and leveraging white space both personally and organizationally.

Bonus: You’re A Bad Listener: Stop worrying about what you’re going to say and focus on what’s being said. Don’t listen to have your opinions validated or your ego stroked, listen to be challenged and to learn something new. You’re not always right, so stop pretending you know everything and humble yourself to others. If you desire to be listened to, then give others the courtesy of listening to them. It’s important to remember you should never be too busy to listen. Anyone can add value to your world if you’re willing to listen. How many times have you dismissed someone because of their station or title when what you should have done was listen? Wisdom doesn’t just come from peers and those above you – it can come from anywhere at anytime, but only if you’re willing to listen. Expand your sphere of influence and learn from those with different perspectives and experiences – you’ll be glad you did.

The bottom line is this…the gift of intellect is an asset to be thankful for, and put to good and productive use. It is not an excuse to be lazy, arrogant, mean-spirited or delusional. Don’t let your intellect stand in your way, but rather use it as an asset to develop those around you to their full potential thereby increasing your chances for long-term success.


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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“, and Managing Director of N2Growth.

Mike Myatt




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No Comments

  1. Orlee Berlove on December 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Great article! I just wonder how to make sure that people always realize intelligence. As a woman and a mother, I sometimes feel like men discount my opinions for these very reasons. Maybe I should speak louder. Can you write a follow-up article entitled “Not Loud Enough For Your Own Good:”?

    • Mallory on November 10, 2013 at 7:45 pm

      Gender is largely irrelevant. To be taken seriously, it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. And though smug pseudo-intellectualism is always off-putting, fine thinking is only so to those who have confidence issues themselves. Gender only comes into play – these days – when strident feminists try too hard in the lame “I-am-woman-hear-me-roar” category. Nobody appreciates that – especially other women! So just do what you do, do it well, and you’ll have the same shot as anyone, i.e: not necessarily great. But possible!

  2. Terri Kruzan on December 3, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Good advise to follow, especially in light of how our organizational cultures are becoming more & more individualistic and relationship-driven. Being ‘too smart’ can work against you in your ability to influence, attract followers and lead more effectively.

  3. krisachuthan on December 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    A leader who listens to others, also promote a much better workforce and generates creative and innovative thinking in the workplace.

  4. David on December 3, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    My question is this: Are you sure a grey font on a background that is mostly grey images and text on a grey is a good idea?

  5. Tianna on December 4, 2012 at 7:26 am

    Article makes so much sense. I am guilty of being argumentative and realising later there is a method to proving your point without stepping on anyone’s toes.

  6. Graham Douglas on December 9, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Very well put advice. Thank you.

  7. Dallas on January 18, 2013 at 2:14 am

    The biggest challenge for people who think they are smart or otherwise better than others is they often have a fundamental insecurity – perhaps this comes just from taking oneself too seriously!

  8. Marshall Barnes on November 13, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I found the article and comments to be of an unique and amusing quality.

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