BAD HABITS OF SMART LEADERS
> star general from the US Army. We were
surrounded by other two- to four-star
generals. Each of these men and women
had graduate degrees and were chosen
to be two- to four-star generals over
thousands of competitors. He asked
me an interesting question: “Marshall,
who is your favorite customer?”
I replied: “Sir, my favorite customer is
smart, dedicated, driven to achieve, has
incredible integrity, gets results – and is
a stubborn, opinionated know-it-all who
never wants to admit he or she is wrong.”
I looked around the room and asked:
“Do you think any of the generals in this
very room may fit such a description?”
He laughed and replied: “We have
a target-rich opportunity!”
IT IS INCREDIBLY
PEOPLE TO HEAR
THAT THE OTHER
PERSON IS WRONG.
After all, if others disagree with us,
we assume, because we are so smart,
they must be wrong. They may not be
stupid people, they are just confused
on this particular issue. The higher
up we move in leadership, the more
destructive this habit may become.
One of the ‘super-smart’ scientists
I worked with, Dr. Jones, led the
research and development function
for a large corporation.
He was so smart, he knew more about
the other scientists’ fields than they did!
The good news was that he was very
honest. The bad news was that he could
be incredibly blunt. When people ‘took
him on’ he almost always proved they were
wrong and he made them feel embarrassed.
You might guess what happened. He
was always right, until the day he was
wrong. He mistakenly supported one
disastrous decision that ended up
reducing the market capitalization of
the company by more than $10 billion!
After this disaster, several of the scientists
who worked for him were interviewed.
They all said they had had doubts about
the project, but they never raised them.
Why? Since Dr. Jones was convinced
that this was the right thing to do, they
assumed he must be correct. Even though
they had doubts, they didn’t want to
take him on and risk being humiliated.
One of the telltale comments that I often
receive in 360° feedback from direct
reports is: “He doesn’t bear fools gladly!”
Any leader who takes this feedback as
a badge of honor is making a mistake.
Unless the chief executive is managing a
group of ‘fools’ – a situation I have never
encountered – the real message behind
this feedback is: “This leader always has to
prove he or she is right and treats people
who disagree with him or her as fools.”
3. I ALREADY KNOW THAT
It is incredibly difficult for smart
people to listen to someone tell
them something they know without
pointing out: “I already know that.”
Imagine you are my boss. I am young,
dedicated and enthusiastic. I come to you
with an idea. You think it is a great idea.
Rather than just saying: “Great
idea!” which gives credit to the