I try not to use the word ‘stupid’ too often. Everyone does something stupid once in a while; makes a mistake that they later regret, but this is not the kind of stupidity I am referring to.  My definition of a stupid person is someone that continues to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, not because they are unable to learn but because they are simply either too arrogant or lazy.

And yet we are all prepared to act ‘stupid’ when it suits us.  For example, in my case it is mastering Dutch grammar.  I am prepared to continue to making the same mistakes year in year out.  It seems that I have no desire to focus on perfecting it right now.  In my wife’s case it is setting up any kind of new electronic machine, it simply does not interest her and so she bows to my ‘superior intellect’, knowing that the complete reverse is true.  The point here is that this kind of stupidity is not a problem because the ‘stupid person’ is not disadvantaged, in fact in many cases they are gaining it (my wife gets the video system re-programmed the way she wants it, without the hassle of learning to do it herself).

I was once in a meeting where a manager who happened to be a brilliant scientist was talking through a new proposal.  It was complicated and although he knew his material inside out, he was going at it at such a pace everyone in the room could hardly keep up with him. He genuinely thought that his entire audience was stupid.  Sadly this situation is not uncommon in Universities where genius is encouraged and marketed, even at the cost of the student’s rate of personal development.  However in business this behavior is unacceptable.

Here’s a typical scenario:

Assume you are in a situation where you need to win the approval of a group of people in order to implement a new idea or procedure. What you have to explain to them is rather complex but it is necessary that they understand it, if they are to give their approval.

In this case you need to go at the pace of the slowest in the group. Go any faster and you will leave them behind. Once you have one or two stragglers your meeting is destined to fail because people that cannot keep up become restless and bored. And instead of trying to follow your reasoning they look for objections and flaws in your arguments, anything, no matter how trivial.  They will raise them and interrupt your flow, looking for support from others that are possibly struggling to keep up too.  A few minutes later and your presentation has turned into an all round debating forum that is spinning out of control.

I know of a few managers that regularly fall into this pit. The sad thing is that they tend to believe that their colleagues are unintelligent, stupid even.  If you find this happening to you on a fairly regular basis, you need to change your way of working, you need to find a personal coach.  Because getting one’s own way is an essential part of leadership.  You can have the best idea ever, but if people don’t recognize or follow it you are not a leader but a prophet crying in the wilderness.

Have a good week,