Count me in. I thought one of my first bosses was a dimwit. I couldn’t believe he was in charge, and I was always grumbling, “If I could just have his job for one day, I could fix everything.”
But guess what? He turned out to be pretty shrewd. Some crises hit and he made wise decisions. He also made a few predictions about our business that seemed foolish at the time but turned out to be right.
Judge fairly—and slowly
It’s easy to laugh at a boss’s mistakes. But don’t be so quick to assume you could do a better job.
Until you’ve had to make the tough calls, move the company on a straight path and face the pressures the boss faces, then you’re not exactly well-positioned to render verdicts on who’s smart and who’s stupid. And unless you’re privy to everything the boss knows, you’re hardly qualified to boast about your superior intelligence. When you’re one or two rungs down, you don’t have a clue about the boss’s job duties. I sure didn’t. So don’t claim you’re an expert.
Also consider this: When you’re in charge, you’re more visible. People look to you to call the shots, but it’s impossible for all of them to agree with every decision you make—or for every decision to be right.
Still, it doesn’t do you any good to brag about how you’re right and the boss is wrong. That’s a career-crushing attitude. Even if you’re right, no one’s going to come away impressed with your tact or maturity.
What’s more, maybe you really are smarter. Maybe you have more gray matter than the CEO. But the boss has one thing you don’t: a higher-level job. And he probably exercised some smarts to get it.
Who’s fooling whom?
I’m not a genius. But I’ve figured out that sometimes it’s smart to play dumb.
I’ve run departments with some arrogant folks reporting to me. I found it useful to stoke their egos by letting them share “brilliant” insights that I’d figured out when I had their jobs. I didn’t want to compete with them for the smarty-pants award.
Furthermore, I’ve found that by acting like I’m slow to understand something, I force my employees to speak to me in plain English. That way, they can’t hide behind buzzwords or spout hollow theories.
The bottom line is, don’t underestimate your boss. If you think you’re so smart, keep it to yourself.
Each month, “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 25-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $100 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.
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