Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Smartest Person In The Room

I was having lunch with a collections colleague of mine a couple of years back, sharing war stories of our time managing collection agencies over the decades, and he said to me, “You know what’s the worst feeling in the world?  Knowing you are the smartest person in the room”.

He’s right.  I’ve worked in companies like this, and it’s soul crushing.

Imagine working in a company where everyone comes to you for answers, you spend your time fixing other people’s problems, and you can’t finish a coherent thought in your own head because you are holding everything together by force of will, duct tape, and hope.

That’s not sustainable – for you, for the company, and for your co-workers.  I’ve been the smartest person in the room, and it’s great – for the first week.  After that, the shine wears off it.  Being indispensable means you can’t go on vacation, you can’t look forward because you are too busy putting out fires, it means that if you leave the company, it fails.

But thinking about it, you don’t start your working career as the smartest person in the room.  I’ve definitely worked with more experienced, smarter people than me, I’ve had my turn being a employee being told , and you don’t start in the working world as master and commander of your company and your destiny.  So … how do you build someone else up to be the smartest person in the room?

Let Them Be Smart!

Someone comes into your company, takes charge, challenges ideas, and wants to make changes … let them.  If you stop them at the beginning from using their brain, they'll stop.  Of course, you can't have total chaos and a new person might not understand all the nuances of your company, so encourage moderation and collaboration with other leaders that are already working with you.

That Which Does Not Kill Us …

Hardship builds character.  And experience.  And mastery.  If you save the day with a database restoration, diffusing an irate call, presenting your performance to a client and explaining why you are not meeting their objectives, it actually gets easier to do it with practice.  Not just ‘oh, this is problem X, I’ve run into this before, all I have to do is Y’, but building confidence, problem solving, and operating under pressure.

So let your people take on the big problems.  Support them, guide them, and let them handle them.  They may succeed, and they may fail, but they’ll be better for it next time the problem comes around.

Don’t Let People Use You As A Security Blanket

Once you are the smartest person in the room, everyone knows it … and they’ll come to you, because you can solve their problems.  They’ll ask computer questions, collection law questions, co-worker communication questions, personal questions … because they trust you, and know you will be of help.

This is tricky.  If you let people lean on you too much, they stop thinking for themselves, and growing.  If you wave as they plummet over the cliff, you aren’t helping them grow.  But the idea is to be a ‘resource of last recourse’.

Something you can do to build up others is a thing called the ‘Socratic Method’ that teaches people by asking questions, and challenging ideas.  By stimulating critical thinking and drawing out conclusions from others, you can teach people to solve their own philosophical, emotional, or decision-based problems.  So, instead of saying ‘these consumers aren’t paying you, do better!’ you would ask ‘why didn’t these consumers resolve their account with you?  Did you say something to them to aggravate them?  At what point in the call did you lose control of the situation?’.  By forcing people to answer these questions, they have to think, and by encouraging pro-active thinking, it makes the people around you more independent.

Silence Is Golden

Just because you know the answer to a problem, does not mean you should always give it.  By jumping in and always offering a solution, you are actually encouraging people to use you as a security blanket.  Let people fumble around on a problem, let them fail to a certain degree – offer them partial solutions or resources to be supportive, and then stop talking.  Leadership, once earned, is very hard to give away, but you need to if you are going to build someone else into the smartest person in the room.

When you delegate a responsibility or task, leave it delegated – don’t interfere with someone’s opportunity to be a leader.

Emotional Intelligence

Sometimes, part of being the smartest person in the room is about emotional intelligence as well.  There could be someone technically more proficient at the job than everyone around them, and be socially shunned, and ignored by co-workers, and fail … because they are a jerk.

Being a real leader is communicating and working with co-workers in a positive manner.  Not lording authority over someone or insisting you are right over being kind.  To be the smartest person in the room, that means having other people in the room – and having them not lynch you every time you talk is a key skill that gets ignored.

Teach folks that if you have conflict with a co-worker, know when to apologize (whether you are right in your position or not), teach them in turn to empower and uplift others.  Teach them to communicate clearly about their expectations and build morale and respect.  Have them solve their own interpersonal problems without you having to intervene or interfere.

So, Who Is The Smartest Person In The Room In Your Company?

When I started at my company, there wasn’t a lot of competition for ‘smartest person’, and any start up business needs to have a strong-willed entrepreneur with skill to succeed, but a national, multi-location company cannot survive and grow under a cult of personality, it needs multiple leaders and multiple ‘smartest people’.  Some folks will be technically smart, some are great leading under pressure, some will have work experience intelligence, and some will be community or culture leaders.  That’s great … people have different strengths and a company can succeed based on multiple leadership roles.

And when a new person comes into the company, they are a ‘smartest person’ waiting to be discovered … if they want to be.

If anyone wants to chat about mentoring, delegation, or how you succeeded in not being the smartest person in the room, feel free to comment or drop me a message.

Thanks kindly,

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
KINGSTON Data & Credit
Cambridge, Ontario

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