Get Smart(er)

BY Caitlin Roark // HR Director

Great leadership is a product of blending all the “smarts” you have at your disposal. 

There are a lot of quizzes out there that can determine if you value street smarts or book smarts.  Some may even go so far to say this identification may influence your view of the world.  In reality – the blending of multiple “smarts” will elevate your overall leadership style to effectively manage different kinds of people, wherever they are on their career journey.

Street Smarts

There is a running joke in my family that I must have been a hitman in a former life.  The expression “nobody puts Baby in a corner” is the exact opposite of what I want when seated at a restaurant.  I like to sit in that corner, locate the exits, and have a clear line of sight to anyone moving around. 

Being aware of one’s surroundings is important in a business setting as well.  Let’s dive into business street smarts a bit further.

Read the room. 

As leaders, an important skill to develop is recognizing cues from others.  We live in a world where efficiency is, and should continue to be, prioritized.  The secret sauce is working towards a common goal while simultaneously finding individual passion points or areas of common ground.  Build your own emotional intelligence to further forge connections with others. 

Use your experiences & trust your gut. 

Every experience you have curates your own world view.  You may remember how relatives, teachers, coaches, or friends commanded the room and inspired a vision.  You may also remember a manager or coworker that left you feeling let down or unprepared.  Great leaders can take these experiences, reflect, and share with others.  That person can then have an actionable point of reference when encountering a similar situation in the future.

Recognize that common sense is sometimes not so common.  

Situational awareness is elevated when used with a dash of empathy.  What may seem like a cultural or industry norm to you, may be completely new to someone else.  Providing context or follow-up resources will not only satisfy the initial knowledge transfer, but seeds of empowerment can also be planted.

Book Smarts

The amount of information and knowledge we have access to is astonishing.  Gone are the days of paper card catalogs and tracking down encyclopedias at the library.  Ideas are shared around the world through traditional media, scientific stories, TED talks, team brainstorms, the list goes on and on. 

Developing a culture of learning in an ever-changing environment sets each leader and their team up for success.

Know when you are out of your depth. 

It is perfectly okay to not immediately have an answer to a question.  If you approach the situation with humility, you may actually gain traction and common ground with another person.  This is an opportunity to do a bit of research and educate yourself.  Start with your trusted sources, but also look for new viewpoints.

Ask yourself: am I out of touch? 

Leaders can walk a tightrope between focusing on the bigger picture and diving into the day-to-day details.  Sometimes a simple litmus test of the minutiae against your current vision can spark new ideas – both up and down the ladder.

Seek out mentorship.

Listening to new perspectives may completely change or evolve your initial point of view.  There is a reason why businesses large and small have a repeated focus on relationships and communication.  Tap into your extended network, seek someone out you admire, or strike up a conversation in an online forum.  This personal growth journey will propel your leadership style.

The quote “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room” has been attributed to many leaders, including Lorne Michaels and Marissa Mayer. While I like the initial sentiment, I want to push it one step further in the context of street smarts and book smarts.  If you think you’re the smartest person in the room, you probably need to listen, synthesize, and learn from others to broaden your future possibilities.