“The goal isn’t to be the smartest person in the room; it’s to make the entire room smarter.” – page 184 of Adam Grant’s new book Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things
I have thought about Adam’s quote a lot lately.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of being part of a Q&A session with the local business leaders in our community. The following Sunday, a gentleman approached me in my church’s lobby and introduced himself. He said he was at the session and would like to know if we could meet for lunch.
He appeared to be in his late 70’s and was very pleasant. My calendar was free so we put it on the schedule.
As I walked away, a friend of mine approached me and said, “I saw you talking to that man. Do you know who he is?” I said, “Yeah, that’s George. He seems like a good guy. We scheduled a lunch together.”
My friend laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s George Manners. He’s the former head of the Executive MBA program at Kennesaw State University. Yeah, he’s a good guy but you are going to love your lunch together.”
My friend could not have been more right.
What began as a normal lunch turned into deep friendship. George (Dr. Manners) became a mentor, dear friend, a constant source of encouragement, and in essence, my business consultant. Our wives have become friends as well. I am Danielsan and he is my Mr. Miyagi.
Dr. George Manners and James Albright
Pictured here is George with James Albright, the City Manager of Acworth (GA). Whatever room George is in, he is unquestionably the smartest person in the room. But as Grant points out in his book, what makes George special is his ability to make the entire room smarter.
The following are eight qualities George has as the smartest person in the room which should be modeled by all leaders. You will notice each one shows honor to the person he is meeting with.
Organizations pay thousands of dollars for George’s thoughts and insights. Nevertheless, he consistently makes himself accessible to others and readily passes on wisdom from his life experiences.
George is highly curious. He is always asking me what I am reading and learning. When George and I are in leadership environments together, he is invariably taking notes, hanging around smart people, and asking insightful questions.
Asking insightful questions is only the beginning. The smartest leaders are also the best listeners. After asking his questions, George makes direct eye contact and lets you finish your entire thought before responding. As you are speaking, he is also nodding and making facial expressions indicating his absorption of your thoughts.
George often sends me encouraging texts about something he has heard me say or write. I cannot begin to convey the amount of wind someone like George can put into your sails with his kind words. His compliments carry a disproportionate amount of weight.
George is a gentleman. Interestingly, he never tells you what you should be doing. George could easily show up at our lunches and say, “Brian, I’m seeing several things you need to be aware of. Let me give you some advice.” He has earned that right through his experiences and our friendship. But George stewards his influence wisely. He is completely transparent with me but only on items I ask him about.
This is a quality I could especially continue to learn much from.
Following up on the previous point, I know the gift I have in George’s friendship. I respectfully ask him about a number of items. Several years ago, I was transparent about my failures in executive meetings. Because of George’s feedback, I have dramatically changed my communication style in high-level meetings.
George and I recommend books to one another. Afterwards, I will tell him what I learned and ask if I am processing the information correctly. George also gives me his perspectives and makes me a better leader.
“Affective Presence” is the term for how you make someone else feel. George Manners is unquestionably the smartest person in the room. He could easily point out bad decisions or errors in judgment I may be making.
But every time I leave his presence, he makes me feel intelligent, important, and valuable. Most importantly, he inspires me to become a better leader.
Like James Albright, myself, and countless others, you now have the opportunity to learn from Dr. George Manners as well.
If you are generous, curious, a great listener, encouraging, discreet, trustworthy, collectively learning, and positively affecting others with your presence, you have a chance to be a person or honor and leverage your influence in a way that makes the entire room feel smarter.