Don’t Be The Smartest Guy in the Room

I love being the smartest guy in the room, or at least thinking I am. It’s an ego thing. And that means it’s not a good thing. It’s not good to be the smartest guy, and it’s really not good to think I am. In fact, all my worst decisions in life have resulted from putting myself in this situation – thinking of myself as the smartest. It has never ended well.

That label “smartest guy” (or girl), whether it’s true or not, makes us vulnerable to our own weaknesses. When I think I am smarter than everyone else my respect for them almost automatically diminishes. I have made the valuation that I am above them, and this makes it easy to ignore their opinions and contributions. Clearly any perspective but mine doesn’t matter. I become a council of one. And when this happens my weaknesses and blind spots are magnified because I have removed any checks and balances.

“Smartest” is a deceiving and nebulous term. It feels good to be called or to call ourselves, but it?s almost never true. We may be the most knowledgeable about a particular subject or the best at a particular activity, but we are never the best or most knowledgeable about everything. In any given room or on any given team there are people who have better insights, more knowledge, or greater skills than we do in different areas. To think of ourselves as “smartest” is patently false.

If we ever find ourselves “in a room” (any context or environment) where we are the smartest, we should change it, and fast, either by helping others get smarter or by switching rooms. Which of these is the best solution depends on circumstance. When I’m with my two young daughters I’m probably smarter than they are (although the seven year old is giving me a run for my money), but my responsibility is to teach and share and help them discover so that they surpass me. But I also need to conscientiously listen to them; they have insights of their own that can correct and teach me, and if I am so content to be “smarter” I end up worse off.

If I find myself on a team at work on which no one is smarter than me I must do all I can to change that too. It could be assisting teammates to develop their skills and knowledge. Or it might mean that the team needs to change, either because I leave or others do. Much of this depends on circumstance, authority, and flexibility. But no matter what the situation cannot remain status quo.

To stay in a static situation where we are the smartest is asking for problems. No matter how smart any of us is, we will always still have weaknesses and blind spots, and the less resistance those around us put up – or that we accept – the more they grow and become problematic. In any context, no matter the intellect or giftedness of those around us, we shouldn’t resort exclusively to our own counsel. But we inevitably will if we think of ourselves as the smartest.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life