The One Thing Really Smart People Do

Filed in Living by on May 19, 2016 2 Comments

I had only been in the business world for a couple of weeks, and I was invited to attend a big meeting with the Director of our department. I knew he must be a smart guy, based on his impressive education and quick rise up through the corporate ranks. I was really looking forward to hearing what he had to say.

I discovered that he was very smart, but for a different reason than I expected.

Yes, he was knowledgeable and well-spoken. But what was most impressive about him was what he was willing to admit he didn’t know.

As a staff person was presenting some research during the meeting on a topic she was assigned, the Director stopped her several times to say that he either wasn’t familiar with a concept, or hadn’t heard a particular term before, and asked the staffer to more fully explain it to him. This high level guy was willing to admit in front of all of us what he didn’t know!

I found his humility and openness to learning really impressive.

During the course of my career, I have since met many business people who were similarly humble and realistic about their knowledge, and lack thereof. A CFO boss of mine once told me that the area of finance “is like an ocean.” He said no one could possibly know it all, and to act like you do is hubris.

Really smart people know what they know, but more importantly, they also know what they don’t know. And if you don’t know something, it is best to recognize it, admit it, and get down to work learning more about it so you can make a good decision or judgement. If you act like a know-it-all, you will make big mistakes.

Do you have the strength of character and wisdom to admit what you don’t know? If you do, it will make you a much better employee, as well as spouse and parent.

P.S. For decades I hadn’t thought about that Director who I worked for early in my career. After I wrote this article, I decided to google his name to hopefully see what he is doing. When I searched on his name, I discovered that he died about a month earlier, at right about the same time I got the idea to write this article. I don’t think that was a coincidence.

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

Comments (2)

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  1. Lynn Crotty says:

    Thanks Tim.
    I will definitely embrace this advice.
    It reminds of another rule I try to live by both in my business as well as my personal life: give credit where credit is due. In this cut throat world that we live in today, too many people are taking credit, either passively or aggressively, for the ideas of someone else. Its a little thing that can make a big difference.

    • Tim McIntyre says:

      You’re right, Lynn, nothing demotivates an employee more than when they come up with a good idea and their boss hogs all the credit. Give credit and see the new ideas flow! Plus, people end up finding out later whose idea it was anyway, and then you look like a fool. Not good!

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