“I’m so much smarter than my manager,” my Tinder date complained. “I don’t understand why I’m not leading the team. My ideas are better than anyone else’s in the department.”
While I hadn’t expected to take part in this type of discussion on our first date, his words intrigued me. I found myself mulling it over long after we finished our drinks and said goodbye.
Although some may say he had a biased opinion on the capabilities of his team, for the sake of argument I assumed he was correct that he was the smartest of the group. Was he robbed of this title?
Having only been exposed to a snapshot of the man, my inclination was to think not. First, he was lamenting his situation to a total stranger. And not just any random stranger; this was a date. Most people used that small amount of time to share a couple of cocktails, not their frustrations about work.
With his lax posture and limited eye contact, he didn’t exude confidence. Coupled with his inclination to stare at the floor while airing grievances, he put off an inaccessible, distant vibe.
While that sort of behavior would be acceptable over beers with an old friend, it didn’t create a good first impression. The dejection he showed during our time together was both off-putting and perplexing. Combined with his general lack of enthusiasm, that happy hour was exceptionally melancholy.
I tried to picture him at an executive meeting explaining the goals of his department and vying for the company’s limited resources to support his employees’ efforts. I couldn’t see it. I saw other managers laying out more convincing arguments. I couldn’t see him articulating his ideas in a manner that persuaded others of his team’s needs.
I tried imagining him leading a department meeting. He’d be standing in front of the room giving a motivational sendoff after having completed a review of each individual contributor’s actionable items. Again, his inability to think outside his own circumstances in our limited interaction made this hard to visualize.
Maybe it isn’t always critical for managers to be the smartest person in the group. Perhaps even highly qualified managers are just smart enough, but they have a combination of communication skills, personality, and charisma to maintain their position.
As a society, we tend to focus on the importance of technical competencies. But what about the other skills that take our work to the next level? Being management material means having the technical acumen to understand the work as well as the leadership to oversee the initiative.
We’re past the era when the person with the pocket protector always reports to the person with the pocket square. It’s great to be living in a time where that person can be one and the same. However, to act in a leadership capacity requires a high level of emotional intelligence. As a technical industry, it falls on us to see that the strength of our position does not rest solely on our technical prowess and intelligence, but the accumulation of a myriad of skills.
Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.