I took one of those online Facebook quizzes the other day and got “dolphin.” That’s right, my inner wild animal is the dolphin. I don’t know about you, but dolphin doesn’t quite scream “Female Corporate Traveler” to me. More like, “Friendly Female Flipper.” And just to rub salt in it, female dolphins are known as cows. Yikes.
Looking into it a little, I confirmed that dolphins are highly social and have strong caretaker instincts. For example, a dolphin will stay with an injured mate and even perform a porpoise version of CPR, if necessary. But I prefer to think that this is the trait that placed me squarely in the seafaring camp: dolphins are smart.
This got me thinking about what it means to be smart. And that got me back to thinking of those “Lessons in Leadership” I imparted a few weeks back to some young undergraduates. Turns out, I keep talking about that session. I was in a client meeting up in Massachusetts a few days later and I found myself talking about the Penn session. The client was worried that they were falling behind the competition because they were planning more than doing.
This is a problem at a lot of firms, especially ones with so-called “smart cultures.” Everyone is just so damn smart that they think, overthink, and outthink so much that they forget to actually do anything. In my experience, leaders make a plan and follow it about 75% of the time – they build into the plan the re-thinking and re-assessment so that they can get to the “do” stage faster.
Then last week I found myself in a meeting with the business head of a major company and he was proudly telling me that people on his team didn’t put each other down or try to look good by making others look bad. So, I shared with him the “trope of sophistication” observation Wesleyan President Michael Roth made. Yeah, truth be told, I felt pretty smart when “trope” rolled off my tongue like candy, but the lesson is important. Picking yourself up by putting others down is cheap and it’s not smart.
Finally, I was talking to my sister and she reminded me of a lesson I forgot to mention to the Penn students. She doesn’t know she did it. We were talking and I asked her a question and she said, “I don’t know. Tell me.”
Side note: I grew up in the shadow of a ridiculously smart older sister. In high school whenever I got a teacher who had had her previously, I knew immediately – I better level set expectations pronto. She can multiply and divide big numbers in her head. She can smell an illogical conclusion. And, most importantly, she knows where to find that pesky yield curve.
So, imagine my glee whenever she says those sweet little words, “I don’t know.” But truth be told, it really only means she’s a leader. Leaders aren’t afraid of looking bad or stupid. And they sure aren’t afraid of admitting they don’t know something or understand something and won’t you please explain?
So, now it’s time for me to embrace my inner Flipper. Swim among the sharks, try to help out ailing comrades, stay social and admit to things I don’t know and probably never will.