Smartest in the Room

Last week I was running training for the RMIA on Enterprise Risk Management. We talked about the dangers of the loudest voice in a room when doing risk assessments, as that person might not be the most accurate.

This got me thinking about leadership styles, and how sometimes the smartest person in the room might struggle to influence others, or to lead a situation or team, because communicating their message may not be their strength.

We’re all different. Some people are more thinkers than talkers. Some people talk more than they think! Some think fast while others think slowly. But just because a person might prefer to consider quietly, rather than shout from the rooftops, doesn’t mean their voice doesn’t deserve to be heard. And if that sounds like you, it doesn’t mean you can’t step into a leadership role.

Many Different Types of Thinking

Various studies tell us there are anything from 5 to 15 different types of thinking, but for the purposes of illustrating this point today I am going to simplify them right down to 2. (In upcoming articles I will explore this topic in more detail).

From years of working with engineers, tradespeople, technicians and scientists, I find they often tend to be one of two types of thinkers – action or analysis.

 Action people tend to make quick decisions and are happy to speak out.

Analysis people like to study the information before making a decision, and hence can be slower to speak their mind.

As leaders we need to ensure all our people have a voice, and as managers we need to know when it is our turn to speak. Take for instance poor workplace behaviour. A manager who has an Analysis preference might like time to consider what has happened before speaking up. But as a manager it is their obligation to call out bad behaviour, and time is of the essence when behaviours are unacceptable.

Conversely a leader who has an Action preference will probably handle this situation more easily, but in innovative or problem-solving team environments needs to be careful to seek the opinions of others and be prepared to encourage others to voice their ideas.

You’ll never know if you’re the smartest person in the room, but you probably know if you tend to be more of a thinker or more of a talker. Whatever your natural preference, you should also know is that it is possible to develop the skills to bring balance into your personal and your team’s communications. The first step is recognising it. Next time you’re in a meeting, instead of listening to the loudest voice in the room, try listening out for the ‘smartest’ voice.